Baseball: Wilton clinches Legion playoff berth
Seven games in seven days — it made the week seem like a season. But when the dust settled, the Wilton Post 86 American Legion senior baseball team had registered four victories, moved into sole possession of fourth place in Zone 4, and clinched a spot in the upcoming state tournament.
Wilton (17-9) will likely play a first-round state game on Saturday, with the opponent, time and location all to be determined later this week.
Having ridden Billy Black's pitching effort to a 2-1, playoff-clinching win over Greenwich the night before, Wilton daubed icing on the cake with a doubleheader sweep over Norwalk Post 12 — by scores of 6-3 and 2-1 — on Tuesday night.
The first game had been suspended July 1 in the second inning with one out and Norwalk runners at first and second. Although the venue moved to Wilton for Tuesday’s contests, Norwalk still retained the home team status for the opener.
Glenn O'Brien inherited the precarious situation for Post 86 and did what he could to patch it up. Norwalk, however, immediately worked a double steal, and Mike Clapps crossed home plate when the throw to nail him at third base floated over the infield and into the pastures of left field.
An outfield overthrow on the play sent the remaining Norwalk runner to third, but Wilton avoided more damage as infielder Collin Kahal threw out the runner at home on a fielder's choice and a ground ball to first ended the inning. Then it was six innings of shut out ball for O'Brien, with Matt D'Elisa taking over in the ninth and pitching the final two innings for the win.
Wilton tied the game in the sixth when Mike Tienken led off with a walk and Zach Adams' bunt single put two runners aboard. Kahal bounced into a fielder's choice and D'Elisa struck out. But Jackson Ward laced a single to center and Adams scored to make it 1-1.
Post 86 then went ahead 3-1 with two runs in the top of the eighth. Adams singled with two outs, stole second, reached third on a wild pitch, and came home on Kahal's base hit to right. Kahal then stole second and scored on D'Elisa's single to center.
Post 12 wouldn't go away, however, knotting the game in the bottom of the inning. Victor Silano's two-out single to center with the bases loaded drove in Griffin Root and Mike DiIorio to tie the score at 3-3.
Wilton responded with another flurry of runs in the top of the 10th, shooting to a 6-3 lead. Brendan Skewis bunted for a base hit and moved to second on a throwing error. Tienken's base hit moved Skewis to third, and Tienken stole second to put two runners in scoring position. Skewis came home on Adams' fielder's choice, and a stolen base and a walk to Kahal loaded the bases for D'Elisa, who blasted a double to right that plated both Tienken and Adams.
Aided by a double play, D'Elisa held Norwalk scoreless in the bottom of the inning to seal the victory.
Ward took over on the mound in the second game, pitching a five-hitter and allowing just one unearned run. That came with two outs in the third inning, when Mike Pascarelli scored on an infield error. Post 12 held that lead until it gave back the run with a pair of errors in the fourth inning, with Ward scoring on the second miscue.
The score stayed tied until the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and the bases empty, Ben Rusin hit a ball to short that should have been fielded but instead got bobbled, allowing Rusin to reach base. Rusin then stole second and Brennan Ryan slammed a hard ground ball into right field. Rusin rumbled around third, and when the Norwalk catcher couldn't find a handle on the ball Rusin plowed head first across the plate to give Wilton the 2-1, walk-off victory.
After O'Brien's four-hit shutout in a 4-0 triumph over Ridgefield pushed Wilton to 14 wins last Wednesday, the Post 86 playoff express stalled. Trumbull Post 141 came to Wilton on Saturday morning and swept a doubleheader by scores of 6-1 and 1-0. Though Wilton out-hit Trumbull in both games, Post 141's timely at-bats made the difference.
Simon Whiteman was the Trumbull offense in the opener, getting all three Post 141 hits, scoring three runs and knocking in a pair with a double and a triple. Seven walks — six issued by Wilton starter Ryan Gabriele — served Trumbull well as three free-pass runners scored. D'Elisa, making his first appearance on the mound for Post 86, threw three innings of scoreless relief, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced.
Trumbull's Brian Hnatuck pitched six innings, yielding an unearned run on five hits, while walking four and striking out six. Reliever Frank Puglia retired the side in order in the seventh. For Wilton, Kahal and Ward had two hits each, with Kahal scoring his team's only run on a passed ball in the sixth.
The second game featured a pitching duel between Trumbull’s Dan Leckler and Wilton’s Rusin. The only run of the game came in the first inning, and it was Whiteman again who led the way, getting to second base on a throwing error and scoring on Dustin Siquiera's base hit. Otherwise, Rusin matched Keckler in shutting down the opposition, allowing just the unearned run on four hits, striking out two and walking one.
It didn't get any better for Wilton the following morning at Trumbull, as starting pitcher Jack Mastrianna tried to stop a Post 141 sweep. He allowed just four hits and a puny run, walking two batters and striking out one. But Mastrianna’s counterpart, Andrew Lojko, held Wilton scoreless while striking out three and walking two.
A masterful performance by Black on Monday against Greenwich stopped Wilton’s three-game slide. Black threw a five-hitter, striking out six batters, walking three, and allowing just one run in Post 86's 2-1 victory.
Both teams scored in the fourth, Greenwich drew first blood when Alex Loparco singled, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on Kevin Woodring's sacrifice fly to right. Post 86 matched that marker in its home fourth. Kahal led off with a base hit, stole second, and then scored on an errant throw as he was attempting to steal third base.
Wilton notched the go-ahead run in the sixth. Jack DiNanno led off with a walk, moved to second on a balk, and reached third on Ryan's base hit to left. Ryan then stole second and, with one out, Ward got an intentional pass to load the bases.
Skewis came to the plate with the Post 86 offense awash in possibilities. He squared to bunt and watched Jon Adimar's pitch glance off the catcher's mitt and travel all the way to the backstop for a passed ball, with DiNanno galloping home on the play.
Now it was Black for the hold and the win in the top of the seventh. With two outs and a runner at first via a walk, Aaron Schur whacked a ball for extra bases down the left-field line. Adams didn't field it cleanly, but he didn't panic either. He fired to Kahal, who then uncorked a bullet of a throw that reached catcher Ryan on the fly — 10 feet ahead of the Greenwich runner. Ryan calmly made the tag to end the game and clinch Wilton’s berth in the state tournament.