Baseball: Ridgefield ends Wilton win streak at six

Ethan Leinberger tries to put the tag on a Ridgefield base runner during the Wilton baseball team's game at home on Monday. —
Ethan Leinberger tries to put the tag on a Ridgefield base runner during the Wilton baseball team's game at home on Monday. —

After successive victories over Daniel Hand and Trinity Catholic, the Wilton High varsity baseball team fell to Ridgefield and its ace lefty, Alex Price (3-1), at Wilton’s Varsity Field on Monday.

The 4-1 defeat was due primarily to Price who yielded the one run on three hits, hit a batter, struck out six and walked none. He had solid support from a defense that bailed him out with two double plays. He also benefited from a subpar Warrior performance both at the plate and in the field.

The loss ended Wilton’s six-game win streak, leaving the Warriors 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the FCIAC.

Ridgefield improved to 9-3 overall, 7-2 FCIAC.

“He’s a great pitcher, give him all the credit in the world,” said Wilton head coach Tim Eagen. “I don’t think we helped ourselves against him. Our defense wasn’t good and we took a lot of defensive swings when we were at the plate. But Ridgefield made the plays behind him and it would have taken the best game we know how to play to beat them.”

Brendan Skewis (2-1) was tagged with the loss, yielding four runs on seven hits, walking two, striking out four and hitting a batter through five innings. Clutch hitting hurt him, as the Tigers had three two-out RBI.

In the second inning, Quinn McDonald’s booming two-out triple followed by Ben Cohen’s single to left accounted for an early 2-0 lead. On Cohen’s hit, left fielder Dom Romeo amazingly got to the ball then had it bounce out of his glove as he made a sliding attempt at a catch.

The Tigers came up with their final runs in the fourth.  With one out, McDonald got hit by a pitch and moved to third on Cohen’s single that could have been kept in the infield. With runners at the corners, Matt Restivo laid down a perfect squeeze bunt for one run, and with two down, Pete Columbia’s base hit to center plated the other. Skewis got a strikeout to end the inning and retired the side in order in the fifth.

He ran into trouble in the sixth, however, when he gave up a leadoff walk followed by McDonald’s second base hit. Lucas Uriarte, making his first game appearance of the season, gave up a sacrifice to Cohen that put runners in scoring position. Uriarte ended the threat by getting two harmless fly balls to centerfield.

In the seventh, Uriarte opened the inning with a strikeout but after dealing a walk and a base hit he was relieved by Ethan Leinberger, who got Nick Hanna to hit a sharp ground ball to a drawn-in Dillon Lifrieri at shortstop. Lifrieri made sure the runner at third was breaking for home and then threw him out at the plate.

Leinberger never threw another pitch as the Tigers attempted the first-and-third play, allowing the runner at first, Hanna, to get caught in a run down while the player at third tried to score. Leinberger went after the runner at first, appeared to tag him after the runner at third, Mike Heller, had crossed the plate. The run counted. Not so. The second base umpire ruled that Hanna ran out of the base path before the runner reached home, negating the run and ending the inning.

Wilton got its only run in the third inning when Chris Tienken laced a one-out single to center, beat a casual flip to second base on an infield ground ball, moved to third on Lifrieri’s fielder’s choice, and came home on Jack DiNanno’s hard base hit to right.

The only other threat the Warriors could muster came in the sixth after an infield throwing error put runners at first and third with none out. Ryan Gabriele crunched a line drive just off the first-base bag insuring that at least one run would score, leaving runners on with none out. Instead, first baseman Nick Cullinan speared the ball and then stepped on first to finish off a rally-killing double play. Price struck out the next batter to end the inning.  

Daniel Hand

The Wilton highlight game of the week, of course, had a much happier conclusion. For the second time this season, the Warriors jettisoned a team from the ranks of the unbeaten.  First it was St. Joseph. Then last Thursday at Madison, Wilton defeated the now 9-1, previously Connecticut number-one ranked Daniel Hand Tigers, 7-6, in a flat out nail-biter.

There was no sluggish early play, as the Warriors got off the bus ready to hit. Lifrieri led off with a walk and DiNanno blasted a home run for a 2-0 lead before Hand fans were really paying attention. In the second, Skewis led off with a single and then it was Lifrieri’s turn to clear the fences, and the bases, with a two-run shot that put Wilton up, 4-0.

The Warriors looked to run away with the game, sending nine men to the plate in the three-run third. Sacrifice flies by Lifrieri and Jack Forgione brought in two runs and a bases-loaded infield error accounted for the third.

Meanwhile, Skewis (no decision) kept the lid on Hand through two innings. In the third things got away from him a bit. After two quick outs, a home run by Ed Sweeney, his first of two, and an RBI base hit by Jake Crawford, gave the Tigers a spark.

That spark turned to a flame in the fourth. Three straight base hits brought in one run and a double play initiated by Lifrieri cleared the bases as another run scored. Sweeney prolonged the inning and made Wilton fans start to squirm with his second home run, cutting the lead to 7-5.

Leinberger (1-0) came in to get the final out and then pitched a scoreless fifth.

But the Tigers of Hand would growl again in the sixth. Kyle Phillips relieved Leinberger after a leadoff walk but couldn’t keep the runner from scoring. A base hit by Phoenix Billings and Sweeney’s sac fly tightened Warriors’ collars at 7-6.

It had not helped either that the Wilton attack went rogue. After chasing Spencer Oliver (2-1) in the third inning, the Warriors could do nothing with reliever Chris Hartmann, who pitched scoreless, three-hit ball the rest of the way.

So it came down to Hand’s last at-bat when Julian Banerji ripped an opposite-field double to left leading off the inning. In came Lifrieri to replace Phillips. Jake Crawford’s long fly ball to right moved Banerji to third, and chances for a tie ball game and extra innings loomed. But Lifrieri disposed of the entire comeback notion by striking out the next two batters on seven pitches, securing the win and getting a save.  

“I was throwing sliders and fastballs,” said Lifrieri as his team celebrated jubilantly around him. “My teammates were all behind me, rooting for me. That’s baseball,” he said referring to Hand’s comeback. “They could be down by 20. Good teams will always find a way to come back.”

“What a great win for the program. That’s a very good baseball team we beat. They’re ranked number-one in the state for a reason,” Eagen said. “I thought our kids really hung in and found a way to win when the momentum swung against them. We found a way to win with our relievers.”

Trinity Catholic

On Saturday, Wilton followed up its gigantic win against Hand with an 8-4 triumph over Trinity Catholic (1-10) at the Crusaders’ home field. Trinity stayed in the game late, trailing by only 4-3 going into the sixth inning. It took a two-out, three-run flyball single to right by Cole Judelson to give Wilton the upper hand. The right fielder, who was literally blinded by the vicious right-field sunlight, missed the ball. He would eventually come out of the game because of the sunspots that continued to dance in front of his eyes.

The Warriors tacked on their final run in the seventh when, with two outs, Lifrieri belted his second triple on the day and raced home on Gabriele’s hard single by first base. The Crusaders rallied for a run on a pair of base hits, a walk and a two-out infield error. Lifrieri came in to face the final batter, striking him out on three pitches.

Kyle Phillips (3-0) got the win, yielding four runs (two earned) on 10 hits, walking three and striking out five. Lifrieri (2 triples), DiNanno (2 doubles) and Judelson (5 RBI) led the 10-hit Wilton offense. But there was definitely room for overall performance.

“Trinity walked 12 of our batters — 12!” repeated Eagen. “We made base running mistakes, we left 13 guys on and we had some of our best hitters hitting pop-ups with guys all over the bases. We can’t play this way against the top dogs in our conference and expect to win.”

The Warriors are scheduled to play at home against Trumbull this Friday night at 6. The team will be missing Kyle Phillips, who is out with a shoulder injury.