MADISON — Matt Downing couldn’t remember ever tagging a runner out at the plate for the final out of a game.

He can now.

The Cheshire southpaw pitcher tagged out Hand’s Colin Telford at the plate for the final out in a wild bottom of the seventh inning as the Rams (No. 1 ranked in the GametimeCT.com/New Haven Register state poll) hung on for a 5-4 victory over the 3rd-ranked Tigers Wednesday afternoon.

“That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me in a game,” Downing said. “Everything in my mind was going so fast, it was hard to comprehend what was going on.”

Cheshire (9-1) came into the bottom of the seventh with a 5-1 lead and Downing got the first out of the inning when he fanned designated hitter Kevin Girardi. However, it all fell apart quickly for him after Anthony DePino reached on an error to give Hand hope.

Downing, who admitted he was running out of gas in the inning, hit Jake Crawford with a pitch and Will Kleinhenz singled to fill the bases. Downing got pinch-hitter George Anastasio to fly out for the second out, but Telford singled to right to plate to drive in DePino and put the tying runs on base.

“I got a little tired even though I was on an extra day’s rest,” Downing said. “My command wasn’t there, but we came out with the win, which is all that matters.”

With the lineup flipped to the top of the batting order, Julian Banerji laced a single to center field that scored both Crawford and pinch-runner Ken Nuzzi. Cheshire centerfielder Ryan Strollo’s throw to the plate to try and nail Nuzzi went awry and bounced to the backstop. However, Rams’ catcher Matt Costello was alert enough to race to grab the errant throw and get the ball in time to Downing for the tag that ended the game.

“It was a bang-bang play at the plate, but they had to make a great play to get him out there and they did,” Hand coach Travis LaPointe said. “It’s a split-second reaction and they got to the ball pretty quickly.”

Cheshire took an early 1-0 lead in the second inning when Rob Roles scored on a wild pitch. But that lead didn’t last long as Banerji singled in Telford all the way from first base in the bottom of the third inning to tie things at 1.

Roles scored an unearned run in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Scialabba to give the Rams the lead for good. They added another one in the fifth when Strollo and Downing blasted back-to-back triples and knocked out Hand starter Kevin Tracy later in the frame.

Aiden Patrick came on in relief of Tracy and pitched the final 2 2/3 innings with his only blemish being a Roles two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning that gave Cheshire what looked like to be enough insurance with a 5-1 edge prior to the wild bottom of the inning.

It was the fourth one-run game for Cheshire in 10 outings. The Rams are 3-1 in one-run contests with their only loss of the season coming to Amity, 1-0, on April 1 in their season opener.

“It’s good. I’d rather have the tight games than the blowouts,” Cheshire coach Mike Lusser said. “I don’t see us as the No. 1 team. We look at it as game by game.”

Hand fell to 7-3 after suffering its second consecutive loss. The Tigers were beaten by North Haven, 5-1, on Tuesday.

“We believe Cheshire arguably is the best team in the state and we went toe to toe with them,” Lapointe said. “You have to play your best game to beat them. They are so talented and have so many great players. We had a chance to win until the last play of the game, but this is the kind of game that’s going to help you later on down the road.”

Connecticut Media Group