Baseball: Wilton wins protest, heads back to Danbury Thursday

With one conference game left in the season, the final seeding of the eight teams for the FCIAC playoffs continues to change and will not be settled until Thursday, when Wilton and Danbury meet to complete Monday’s game.

The Warriors (12-4 overall, 10-4 FCIAC), who also play Fairfield Ludlowe today, are still in the hunt for a top-four seed for the FCIAC tournament, which begins Friday.

The Danbury game had originally been a 1-0 loss for the Warriors. But a Wilton protest of an umpire call was upheld on Tuesday and the game will be resumed Thursday at 4.

The play in question happened in the top of the seventh, after Wilton had loaded the bases with one out after a single by Cole Judelson

It was pointed out by Danbury that Wilton had batted Judelson out of order and that he should be ruled out. The umpire agreed, arguing that incorrect player numbers had been used and therefore Judelson had batted out of turn.

The actual players had batted in order, however, and that was the deciding factor. Wilton head coach Tim Eagen lodged a protest but the game continued, with the Judelson being declared out and both runners returning to their previous bases. Instead of the bases loaded with one out, there were now two outs and runners at first and second. A strikeout then ended the game.

However, with the Warriors winning the protest, they will travel back to Danbury and begin play just as it was before the protest was filed — bases loaded with one out in the top of the seventh, and Jack DiNanno at the plate.

“I was pretty sure we would win the argument,” Eagen said. “It gives us a chance to move up, but we have to beat Ludlowe at home (today).”
Rebounding from a 1-0 loss at Trumbull, the Warriors rode an outstanding mound effort from Cole Lipsky who, with help from Dillon Lifrieri, shut out Stamford 1-0 last Wednesday at Wilton’s Varsity Field.

It was pitching and defense in spades as neither team scored through six and one-half innings, and an unearned run would finally win the game.

Wilton right fielder Henry Strmecki led the defensive charge. In the second inning, he threw out a runner at third attempting to advance from first on a base hit and ended the inning making a fine running catch in the outfield.

In the seventh, he held a runner at third with another missile of throw, this time to the plate. The Black Knights’ Ruben Rodriguez had led off the inning with a prodigious triple to right center. A groundball out had held him at third, and Lifrieri replaced Lipsky. Lucas Beldotti then lifted a fly ball to medium right. Strmecki gathered in the ball and threw a strike to the plate. The third-base coach, already aware of the firepower in Strmecki’s arm, wisely held the runner. A bouncer up the middle slightly deflected by Lifrieri’s bare hand, enabling shortstop Collin Kahal to field the ball and make the play to first for the third out.  

Matt D’Elisa led off the home seventh with an infield hit and raced to third on Kyle Phillips’ well-executed, one-out base hit through the right side. An intentional walk to Jack DiNanno loaded the bases. Stamford starter Brad Papp then got an anemic infield pop-up for the second out and looked to be out of the inning on Drew Connolly’s slow groundball to third. Tagging the bag at third was not an option and the throw to second for the force-out had the runner beat. But it was wide of the bag and D’Elisa crossed the plate with the winning run.

Papp (1-4) was the hard-luck loser even though he gave up just the unearned run on four hits, an intentional walk, while striking out five in the six and two-thirds innings he worked.

Lipsky (3-1) threw for six and one-third innings, yielding five hits, striking out three and not walking a batter. Lifrieri got the save, going two-thirds of an inning, retiring the two hitters he faced.

“That was a huge effort for us by Cole Lipsky,” said pitching coach Mark Ketley.

“He stepped up big time today coming up with such a great win right after the hard loss we had at Trumbull.”
The Warriors followed up their fine performance versus Stamford with another errorless game, this time supported by a 13-hit attack that felled Brien McMahon, 7-1 at Wilton’s Varsity Field on Friday.

Though the game was played at Wilton, the Senators were designated the home team as they were unable to play at their home venue as originally scheduled. They jumped out to a one-run lead in their first at-bat. Their initial two hitters peppered first-pitch base hits to left field and a one-out walk loaded the bases. Connolly tracked down Jake Dumas’ long sacrifice fly to center and Ryan Gabriele got a strikeout to end the inning. Gabriele (3-0) shut down McMahon the rest of the way, giving up a total of one run (earned) on three hits, walking one and striking out six in his four innings of work. Bill Black replaced him, throwing two scoreless innings, yielding a hit and striking out three. Lifrieri came on to pitch the final scoreless inning, striking out two batters and plunking a pair.

In the meantime, double plays in the first and second innings helped Senator starter Ethan Blattman (2-2) keep the Warriors in check. But in the third, a three-run rally put Wilton ahead for good.

Connolly led off with a base hit to left, stole second and moved to third on Strmecki’s ground-out. Kahal got hit by a pitch and stole second. Lifrieri’s base hit to left plated one run, and he stole second to again put runners in scoring position. D’Elisa’s grounder to short brought one runner home and moved the other to third. Lifrieri scored the third run, speeding home on a wild pitch.

In the fourth, two more runs scored as Phillips reached first on an error, moved to second on DiNanno’s sacrifice and came home when the centerfielder booted Cole Judelson’s base hit. An RBI infield dribbler of a base hit by Kahal brought in pinch runner Brandon Zheng, upping Wilton’s lead to 5-1. Frank Greco replaced Blattman (five runs, three earned, seven hits, a walk, and a hit batsman) to throw a scoreless fifth.

D’Elisa’s two-out single drove in Strmecki, who had reached on an error and moved to third on Lifrieri’s base hit. In the seventh, the Warriors added their final run. Max Pomponi relieved Greco to begin the inning and gave up successive singles to Phillips and DiNanno. With one out, Connolly’s opposite field base hit to right drove in Phillips.

After the Senators went down in their final at-bat, after players and coaches had gone through the “good game, good luck” lining up routine, Black and DiNanno emerged from behind Eagen with the water bucket and emptied its contents on him in celebration of the venerable coach’s 400th win.

“It was a surprise to me,” said Eagen. “But what I am happiest about is that we’ve built a baseball program here and that’s a tribute to my players, my coaches, the athletic directors and the parents who helped and keep helping make the whole thing successful.”
And then with all the good vibes generated by that milestone, plus a two-game winning streak that put Wilton in excellent position to snatch a top-four tournament seed, what happens?

Danbury at Danbury’s varsity field happens. The place has been a bugaboo to the Warriors for too many years.

“Acchhh – that field,” said Trevor Blond as he looked out over the infield.

Blond, who as a senior pitched for the Wilton 2015 FCIAC Championship team, recalled vividly his own experience on the mound there early in his career.

“We had the lead, I believe, pretty late in the game. There were two out and runners on the bases. A perfect double-play groundball was hit to Brett Phillips. He’s all set to make the play and the ball takes a crazy bounce and hits him in the face.”

Blond remembered Phillips falling to the ground and staying there in a blood spattered shirt as runners circled the bases with runs that spelled Warrior doom. Phillips, as he did so often, got himself patched up and never left the game. Even that, however, couldn’t prevent Wilton from losing.

Two years ago, the Warriors came into Danbury riding an eight-game winning streak with an undefeated J.T. Morin taking the mound. Despite two mammoth clouts by Al Jacobson (“The longest balls I’ve ever seen hit here,” according to 22-year head coach Shaun Ratchford) Wilton lost by a run. A key error by the defense sunk the Warriors, but more relevant to this year, a controversial non-balk call led to the game being played under protest by Wilton, who lost the argument and the game.

Now to this year.

With bright sunlight and a Plains of Abraham wind whipping in and across the diamond from left field, it was still a pitcher’s duel. The Hatters nursed a 1-0 lead into the Warriors final regulation at- bat because lefty Noah Meeks (3-2) had been splendid, giving up only two hits without walking anybody.

But with one out, Jack Dooley cracked a line single to center and Phillips drew a walk. Judelson followed with a hard line drive single to left, loading the bases.

It was at this point that the umpire ruled that Judelson had batted out of turn, and called him out.

Ben Rusin pitched four innings of solid ball. He battled with his control at times but came through in the clutch, especially in the fourth when a base hit and a two-base throwing error put runners in scoring position with none out. He retired the next three hitters in order, getting a strikeout to end the inning.

The only run of the game came in the bottom of the third. With two outs, Javon Hernandez used his blazing speed to beat out an infield hit. Then on a hit-and-run single to right by Brent Jacobellis, Hernandez dashed home. A good relay throw probably would have had him, but it was off line and short hopped the catcher.

Rusin gave up the one run on three hits, walked three and struck out two. Black relieved him, going two innings, walking two and striking out three.