Popken’s Walkoff Hit Delivers Staples 11-Inning Win Over Ridgefield

Staples’ Drew Rogers tags out Ridgefield’s Matt Colin at second base. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

WESTPORT — It took 26 days and four extra innings for the Staples baseball team to earn its second victory of the season against a team with a winning record.

To say that the Wreckers had to get their hands dirty to accomplish the feat turned out to be literal as well as figurative.

Staples’ game against Ridgefield — two teams with realistic championship aspirations — today turned into a pitchers’ duel laced with missed opportunities, and was on the verge of being suspended because of darkness with the scored tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 11th when the Wreckers’ Harry Azadian drove a ball to center. Azadian stumbled as he hit the bag rounding first and had to crawl into second base.

Ridgefield centerfielder John Thrasher catches a fly ball at the fence. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

After being assisted off the field and with Tom Quigley in to pinch run, Max Popken’s second hit delivered the deciding run in a 2-1 victory over the Tigers in a game that lasted three hours.

Azadian had struck out in three of his previous four trips to the plate.

“I was kind of just looking for something to get the bat on the ball, nothing big, just trying to get on base for the team,” Azadian said. “It was just very surreal. I tripped obviously and I think something happened to my hamstring. I didn’t even know if I was going to get (to second base). It’s pretty amazing. Big win.”

Staples (10-7, 9-4 FCIAC) entered the day tied for fourth place in the league standings but with a one-run decision against 9-7 Danbury as its only victory against an opponent over .500. There were some one-run losses, most notably in the Wreckers’ previous outing, against Darien.

“We did a great job of beating the teams we’re supposed to beat but we needed a signature win and the biggest thing about today was we got our ninth league win,” Staples coach Jack McFarland said. “You want to beat an upper echelon team.”

A loss would not have dealt a harmful blow to the Wreckers’ league playoff chances, but besides now being on the verge of clinching a spot, they needed a quality win on the resume.

It came against the Tigers (12-4, 9-3), who suffered their third straight one-run loss.

And it did not come easily. Ridgefield stranded nine batters. It had a runner thrown out on an attempted steal of home for the final out of the eighth inning. There was a runner stranded on third in the ninth. And in the top of the 11th, against George Goldstein, the Wreckers’ third pitcher, Ridgefield put runners in scoring position with no outs and loaded the bases but could not take the lead.

Staples’ Drew Rogers throws to first after forcing Ridgefield’s John Thrasher out at second. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“It has been the MO right now,” Ridgefield coach Paul Fabbri said. “We just need one guy to step up and get a hit and we haven’t had that one guy the past three games. When the money’s on the table we haven’t had that one guy step up and do it. Some passive at-bats and guys want to be the hero but are just not doing it.”

Fabbri said that played into his mindset trying to steal the run in the eighth with the middle of his order up.

Alex Price delivers a pitch for Ridgefield. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“Based on what we’ve been doing we were trying to generate something to make them make a mistake,” Fabbri said. “It didn’t work, it was a bad play.”

Both coaches had nothing to complain about with their pitching. McFarland, with just two games this week and next, was planning to split time between Ryan Fitton and Chad Knight. Fitton went a strong 4 1/3 innings, allowing just an RBI single to Dan Ignatowich in the third, striking out six with no walks. Knight struck out seven and yielded just two hits in 5 2/3 innings.

“Chad was tremendous, he was competing, and George came in and it got a little dicey but when he had to he threw the big strike on a 3-2 pitch. The Dark Knight got a little overtime today but we will give him a rest,” said McFarland, referring to Knight by his nickname.

Alex Price, a candidate for league MVP, gave up just an RBI double to Knight in the third during eight strong innings. He gave up four hits and struck out 10. John Thrasher finished up, striking out four.

Tony Macchia had three hits for Ridgefield. Ben Casparius and Chris Drbal had two each for Staples.

Fabbri said he did not take comfort that all of the recent losses have been close.

“Yeah it’s a cause for concern,” he said. “We have a lot of guys going south offensively. At some point you have to swing the bat and get a hit.”

Starter Ryan Fitton had a strong outing for Staples. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

 

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