WATERBURY — It was a painfully long wait for the Ridgefield baseball program to get the chance to play in its first state championship game. Something like, oh … forever. So it only figured that the wait would be drawn out even longer with the Tigers one win away in tonight’s Class LL semifinal against Amity.
So, after all these years, what was another 10 innings?
In the bottom of the 10th at Municipal Stadium, the wait finally ended. Pinch-runner Brandon Grizzaffi scored from third base on a wild pitch and the Tigers had a 2-1 victory and the school’s first berth in a state final.
“If we didn’t score there I thought it might go another 100 innings or so,” Ridgefield coach Paul Fabbri said after the postgame celebration had finally subsided. “I was wondering if we would ever score again.”
The third-seeded Tigers (20-5) didn’t knock down any fences in producing the winning run but who cares? They now move on to play fourth seed Cheshire in Saturday’s Class LL championship game at Palmer Field in Middletown at noon.
“It’s nice to finally get there,” said Fabbri, now in his sixth year at Ridgefield. “This group of seniors were just .500 as freshmen, so they’ve come a long way.”
One of the seniors, Alex Price, pitched his heart out, going 8 2/3 innings while allowing one run on four hits. Sophomore Matt DeLuca relieved in the top of the ninth and picked up the victory.
“Last year was in the back of my mind,” Price said, referring to the Tigers’ semifinal loss. “I was just hoping tonight to start out strong and I did, and then go inning-by-inning.”
Price might have had extra motivation. Earlier in the day he found out he was not named to the all-state team after receiving the honor as a junior.
“Yeah, when I found out I was a little ticked off,” he said. “That might’ve helped motivate me.”
“For Alex to not make all-state is mystifying,” Fabbri added. “I know he was thinking about it in warm-ups because he was so quiet. It actually got him to the place he had to be tonight.”
DeLuca, meanwhile, retired four of the six batters he faced under intense pressure.
“I was crazy nervous inside,” DeLuca said. “I don’t show emotions on the mound but I was nervous for sure.”
After DeLuca did his job, the bottom of the 10th started with Matt Restivo lining a single to right off Amity’s Ben Lodewick, who relieved starter John Lumpinsky in the eighth. Price then showed his all-around ability by laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Fabbri called on Grizzaffi to pinch-run for Restivo. After Lodewick recorded the second out, Pete Columbia was up and a moment or two later the Tigers had secured their first state championship berth.
First, Grizzaffi got to third on a wild pitch that bounced about 15 feet in front of Amity’s strong-armed catcher Pat Winkel. Winkel’s throw to third was a fraction of a second late.
That was ball two. Then, on ball three, Lodewick’s pitch was in the dirt and skipped to the backstop, allowing Grizzaffi to score the winning run and end the marathon.
“Grizzaffi taking third on was a huge play,” Fabbri said.
Using Grizzaffi was a great move by Fabbri, negating a call that went sour earlier.
In the bottom of the sixth Ridgefield got a gift on Amity third baseman Jon McNelis’ two-base error with one out on Nick Hanna’s grounder. But it was re-gifted right back. Cullinan singled to left and Fabbri, gambling on an errant or weak throw, waved Hanna around third as the Rams’ leftfielder Jack Balacca let loose with his throw home. Hanna was dead, thrown out by 20 feet.
“I was kicking myself,” Fabbri said. “I thought (Hanna) had a better jump and I was just trying to force the issue. It would’ve been a sleepless night for me if we had lost but the kids picked me up.”
Ridgefield struck first but after scoring once in the bottom of the first inning, the Tigers left the bases loaded against Lumpinsky. With one out Matt Stamatis singled and Columbia followed with a hit-and-run single to right, leaving runners on first and third. Quinn McDonald delivered a sacrifice fly to center to make it 1-0.
But after walking Cullinan to load the bases, Lumpinsky struck out Ben Cohen to escape further damage.
Price looked sharp over the first three innings, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced. But the senior lefthander ran into trouble in the top of the fourth.
Balacca led off the fourth with a bloop single to center and quickly stole second. Winkel then followed with a single up the middle to tie it. The Rams had a runner on second with one out later in the inning but Price was able to retire the next two batters to keep the score tied at 1-1.
It stayed that way for what seemed like forever, until the long wait finally ended.
NOTES: Amity defeated Ridgefield 8-5 back on April 7 in the Tigers’ third game of the regular season. … Like Ridgefield, Amity also lost its conference playoff opener, dropping a 7-6 decision to North Haven in the SCC quarterfinals. … Aside from their 9-6 loss to Warde in their regular-season finale against Warde and the shocking FCIAC playoff opener loss to Ludlowe, the Tigers had not allowed more than two runs in any of their other 13 games (all wins) since April 24. … The one common opponent for each team was Ludlowe. While the Tigers split with the Falcons, Amity beat Ludlowe in the first round of the LL tournament 2-1 in 11 innings. … Amity went 0-4 against the two other semifinalists, losing twice to both Cheshire and Fairfield Prep. Ridgefield did not play either team. … Aside from its four state championships from 2013-16 and last year’s runner-up finish, Amity also took home the LL crown in 2006 and 2007.