Post 86 season ends with loss in state second round

Following a state-tournament loss to Hamden on Sunday, players, coaches, parents and other fans can get on with the summer plans put on hold due to the success of Wilton's American Legion Post 86 senior baseball team.

Still, for a lingering moment the hope that one could defer those plans just a bit longer remained. Even though the curtain had come down, no one seemed really ready to go home.

But they had to. Hamden Post 88 saw to that as it bested Wilton, 5-2, last Sunday afternoon in the second round of Southern Division state sectional play at Hamden's Rochford Field.

A happier story had unfolded the day before at Wilton's Varsity Field — the story of how 10th-seed Wilton advanced to face seventh-seed Hamden in the first place.

Through five innings Saturday, Wilton and 15th-seed Oxford Post 174 had battled to a 1-1 draw in their first-round state sectional game. Overcoming a bumpy start (all four of his walks came in the first two innings), Wilton pitcher Billy Black (4-2) had settled in. He would pitch a scoreless sixth inning to finish his day's work, yielding an unearned run on three hits while striking out eight.

His offense got him the win in the bottom of the sixth. Ryan Gabriele led off by reaching first base on an error. Zach Adams moved him to second on a sacrifice and, with two outs, Mike Tienken's infield hit got Gabriele to third. With runners at the corners, Jack Stevenson came to the plate and launched a base hit to center to drive in the go-ahead run.

Oxford hurler Jason Denigris got the next batter and went to the seventh hoping his teammates could give him some help — he had previously driven in Oxford's lone run with an RBI single in the second inning. Wilton had knotted the score in its second when Gabriele's base hit knocked in Collin Kahal, who had singled and stolen second base.

Glenn O'Brien, who has been money on the mound all season for Post 86, relieved Black in the seventh inning, needing three outs to clinch Wilton’s passage to the second round. O'Brien appeared anything but a sure bet as he walked a batter with one out. But O’Brien got the next two outs without further complication, sending Post 86 on the road to Hamden in less than 24 hours.

And Sunday was a day made for baseball: A beautifully tailored field (home of both Hamden High School and Albertus Magnus College) sitting under a hot, washed-in-sun and a pure blue sky day.

But although the game was closer than the final score indicated, Wilton could not overcome a three-run, fourth inning that its defense gifted to the hosts.

Starting pitchers Jack Mastrianna (4-2) for Wilton and Paul Wetmore for Hamden had a relatively easy time of it over the first three innings: Mastrianna giving up a pair of incidental walks; Wettmore, a bad-hop base hit. Wettmore, however, would continue to retire batters in order through the fifth inning. Mastrianna was not as fortunate.

Luke D'Ustilio led off the Hamden fourth with a base hit to right. Wettmore then grounded what looked to be a sure-fire double-play ball, only to have a shortstop's bobble allow all hands safe. Austin DeFilippo then raked an opposite-field double down the right-field line, driving in D'Ustilio while leaving runners in scoring position.

Mike Ferret followed for Hamden and delivered a hot shot to third. The play should have been made, but instead the ball caromed off the Wilton fielder and Wetmore scored. With runners at first and third, a wild pitch added to Post 86’s defensive woes as DeFilippo crossed the plate with Hamden’s third run. Mastrianna doggedly got the next three outs without giving up any runs, but Wilton was in a 3-0 hole.

Hamden added to its lead in the fifth. Trevor Brandi singled to left and Eli Camner's bunt single set the table for D'Ustilio, who, after a wild pitch, singled to drive in one run. Wetmore then helped his cause again, lifting a sacrifice fly to right that scored Camner for a 5-0 advantage.

Chasing five runs, the Wilton attack came to life in the sixth. Stevenson, the previous day's hero against Oxford, led off with a single and then scored on successive base hits by Ben Rusin and Jackson Ward. Wetmore came off the ropes, however, and got the next two batters. But Kahal basted a two-out, RBI double to deep centerfield, and with runners at second and third, a hit would have put Post 86 very much back in the game. Wetmore was up to the challenge though, as he got a short fly ball to center that ended the inning with Hamden ahead, 5-2.

O'Brien more than held Post 88 in check as he pitched a one-two-three sixth for Wilton, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Tienken's one-out single in the seventh kindled some hope for Wilton, but a pair of easy outs ended the game.

"I thought Mastrianna pitched a great game," said Wilton Post 86 head coach Ian Thoesen. "They got the hits when they needed them. Those three unearned runs in the fourth really hurt us, though. But this team is resilient. It's been that way all year. They work hard in practice and they show up to play every game.

“We've had trouble hitting this season but we found ways to adjust and win,” added Thoesen, whose team ended the season with a 19-10 record. “Overall, our defense has been good and our pitching has been tremendous. I am proud of what these guys have done."