Ridgefield's season ends with wild 12-11 loss to North Branford

After all the run-filled innings and unlikely comebacks, North Branford still held a trump card: It was the home team.

And that meant having the final at-bat of regulation play.

North Branford took full advantage, scoring a run on a throwing error in the bottom of the sixth inning to beat Ridgefield, 12-11, in the Little League 11/12-year-old state sectionals Thursday night at Wall Field in North Branford.

The victory sent North Branford into the Section 1 championship game against Fairfield American on Saturday night at 8 in Orange. The teams first will meet in the final pool-play game tonight in Orange.

After dropping its Section 1 opener to Fairfield American on Wednesday, Ridgefield, the District 1 winner, was eliminated with Thursday's loss to North Branford. Following pool play, the top-two teams in the three-team Section 1 advance to the title game; at 0-2, Ridgefield is unable to move ahead of either Fairfield American (1-0) or North Branford (1-0), regardless of the outcome of their pool-play game tonight.

Midway through the first inning Thursday, Ridgefield looked as though it was headed to the section finals. Leadoff hitter Matthew Bucciero began the game with a solo homer, and Ridgefield added six more runs to take a 7-0 lead. Aided by three North Branford errors, the rally also featured an RBI single by Joel Strand and a bases-loaded walk to Myles Gythfeldt before Bucciero stepped to the plate again and ripped an RBI single.

North Branford's comeback began with Tommy Manganiello's three-run homer in the bottom of the second inning. James Mascari then added an RBI single as North Branford closed within 7-4 going into the third inning.

Dom Scalia's two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth made it a one-run game, but Ridgefield went ahead 8-6 in the top of the fifth as Bucciero doubled and scored on Strand's RBI single.

Back-to-back doubles by Mascari and Ryan Michonski gave North Branford its first lead at 9-8 in the bottom of the fifth, and a sacrifice fly and Manganiello's RBI single extended the advantage to 11-8 heading to the sixth inning.

Needing three runs to keep its season alive, Ridgefield responded. Aidan Bogursky singled and Justin Heinsohn reached on an error (with two outs) to set the stage for Bucciero, who blasted a game-tying, three-run homer.

To its credit, North Branford recovered. After a single and a walk put runners on first and second, Ridgefield tried to turn a double play on a grounder up the middle. A force play was made at second for the first out, but the throw to first was in the dirt and got away, allowing North Branford pinch-runner Ben Stegina to race home with the winning run.

Notes: Matthew Bucciero went 5-for-5 for Ridgefield with two homers, three runs scored and five RBIs. Daniel Bucciero, Strand, and Bogursky added two hits apiece and Brendan Busby had one hit. Gythfeldt scored two runs, and Justin Keller, Will Hanna, Aidan Stern, Daniel Bucciero, Strand, and Bogursky scored one run apiece.

Ridgefield used four pitchers — Hanna, Matthew Bucciero, Keller, and Bogursky — in the game. They combined to allow 12 runs (eight earned) on 13 hits, walking eight batters and striking out eight.

Only three of Ridgefield's 11 runs were earned, as North Branford committed five errors.

The winner of Saturday's game between North Branford and Fairfield American advances to the four-team state tournament, along with the other three sectional champs.