Baseball: Warriors nip Tigers 2-1 for FCIAC title

Pitching his final game as a Wilton Warrior, Billy Black made it one to remember.

The senior hurled a complete-game three-hitter as the Wilton High baseball team captured the FCIAC championship game, 2-1, over Ridgefield on Friday evening at the Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.

Although the Warriors (18-4) will continue onto the state playoffs next week, they will do so without their ace, who will have elbow surgery next Tuesday.

“This (was) my last game so I wanted to make it special and get a win for these guys. I definitely went out on a high note,” said Black, who struck out 10 and walked one. “It feels great. Ever since I was 12-years old this has been a dream. We’ve had this core group since we were that young, maybe younger, and it feels great to win it with these guys.”

Wilton needed Black’s gem on Friday night, as Ridgefield’s Collin Lowe was equally dominant, as he allowed six hits and struck out 10 — but was done in by a pair of unearned runs.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these kids because they found a way to win against a real good pitcher,” said Wilton head coach Tim Eagen, who won his second FCIAC title in three years, and third overall in his 38 years at WHS. “We had a really great tournament all the way around. Two games (where) we really hit the ball and this game was just going to be a one-run game, no matter what.”

The Tigers took the early 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Peter Columbia walked, went to third on consecutive ground-outs, and scored on a wild pitch.

Wilton answered with a run in the bottom of the second. Jack Dooley led off with a double down the left-field line, moved to third on Kyle Phillips’ bunt, and scored on a wild pitch to make it 1-1.

Dan Ignatowich led off the third with a line single to right for Ridgefield, but after that Black got into a groove — and stayed there the rest of the game, retiring 15 of the final 16 batters he faced.

Wilton threatened in the bottom of the third when Henry Strmecki reached on a bad-hop single and Collin Kahal blooped a single into right-center field, putting running on the corners with no outs. But with Kahal running, Dillon Lifieri hit a hard liner to third baseman Matt Stamatis, who made the match and doubled off Kahal at first. Lowe then escaped with a strikeout for the third out.

Wilton plated the winning run in the bottom of the fifth. Jack DiNanno led off by driving an 0-2 pitch to the centerfield wall for a double. Strmecki then hit a chopper that took a big bounce into the hole on the left side, which Stamatis made a great play to pull down. But the throw to first was wide, moving the runners to second and third. Kahal then hit a slow roller to the right of the mound for a ground-out, allowing pinch runner Otto Stenzler to score the go-ahead run.

In the bottom of the sixth, Matt D’Elisa singled up the middle, stole second and moved to third with no outs on a wild pitch. But Lowe came back with consecutive strikeouts and then got a ground-out to escape with no damage.

In the top of the seventh, Columbia hit a one-out double — ending a streak of 13 straight outs for Black — to put the tying run on second. He moved to third on a ground-out, but Black got Lowe swinging for the final out.

“That kid is a competitor,” Eagen said of Black. “He made the mistake early, throwing the wild pitch to score the run, but he didn’t let it affect him. He stopped it there and he got stronger as the game went on.”

For the Tigers (17-6), it was a tough loss to swallow. Head coach Paul Fabbri said the Wilton doubles to lead off the second and fifth innings, and the Tigers’ inability to make plays in the field, proved costly.

“The two doubles were the difference in the game. Putting the lead-off guy on second base forces the defense to make plays. And the plays we had been making the previous games we just didn’t today,” he said. “I thought rather than them winning today, we lost. If we make the plays…then we’re celebrating a 1-0 victory rather than a 2-1 loss. It’s tough to win a game with three hits. That’s what number 3 (Black) does to you. And our inability to make those plays was the difference in the ballgame.”

“We just did enough to win — that’s what happens when you have two ace pitchers on the mound,” said Eagen.