Once Ben Casparius settled down, the Ridgefield High baseball team's season was over and out.
With seventh-seed Ridgefield one victory away from a first-ever berth in the state finals, Casparius pitched a four-hitter to lead 11th-seed Staples to a 7-3 triumph over the Tigers in a Class LL semifinal game Wednesday at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury.
The Wreckers will now meet four-time reigning champion Amity in the Class LL title contest this Saturday at noon at Palmer Field in Middletown. Amity defeated 20th-seed Danbury, 5-2, in the second semifinal Wednesday night in Waterbury.
The Ridgefield-Staples semifinal pitted two of the FCIAC's best pitchers, the North Carolina-bound Casparius and Ridgefield junior left-hander Alex Price, who entered with an 8-0 record and a 1.41 ERA. But neither was sharp early.
With one out in the top of the first, Chad Knight singled and Casparius followed with an RBI triple. Mike Fanning's RBI groundout to second scored Casparius and gave Staples a 2-0 lead. The Wreckers then loaded the bases with a double, a walk, and a single before Price got a strikeout to escape with minimal damage.
Ridgefield tied the game with two runs off Casparius in the bottom of the first. Leadoff batter John Thrasher singled, Colin Motill walked, and Tony Macchia bunted both runners into scoring position. Thrasher scored on a wild pitch, and Casparius' balk brought home Motill to make it 2-2.
One out later, Lucas Furneri doubled to left for the Tigers. But Casparius avoided further damage by getting a strikeout to end the inning.
Recently named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, Casparius baffled Ridgefield over the next five innings. The senior right-hander retired 15 of 16 batters, keeping the Tigers from scoring again until the bottom of the seventh.
By that time, Ridgefield was staring at a five-run deficit.
Price didn't make it out of the top of the second. After he walked the first Staples batter and hit the second, Price was relieved by Ridgefield's other top pitcher, senior right-hander Collin Lowe. Two wild pitches and Knight's RBI groundout plated two runs and put the Wreckers ahead, 4-2.
Staples threatened again in the top of the fourth, as walks to Knight and Casparius gave the Wreckers two baserunners with one out. After Lowe struck out Fanning, a double steal moved Knight to third and Casparius to second. Ridgefield shortstop Matt Colin then made a nice defensive play, charging a slow ground ball and firing over to first baseman Matt Stamatis, whose scoop ensured the final out.
Staples made Ridgefield's comeback effort tougher by scoring three runs in the top of the sixth to go ahead, 7-2. Knight supplied an RBI triple, Fanning added an RBI single, and Casparius tagged and scored on a flyball that eventually resulted in a double play.
Down to their final three outs, the Tigers did end Casparius' five-inning scoreless streak in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch-hitter Joe Signorelli singled, went to second on a balk, and came home on pinch-hitter Nick Cullinan's single. But Casparius struck out the next two batters to end the game.
Notes: Ridgefield ended the season with a 20-7 record, reaching the conference finals and the state semifinals.
Casparius struck out 14 Ridgefield batters and walked three.
Pitching for the first time since his nine-inning, complete-game performance in the Tigers' 1-0 first-round win over Simsbury, Price suffered his first loss this season, allowing four runs on five hits in one inning.
Lowe yielded three runs (two earned) on two hits with six walks and 11 strikeouts in his five innings before giving way to senior Andrew Mathes in the top of the seventh. Mathes got two outs and was relieved by classmate Nick Squiteri, who retired the lone Staples batter he faced.
In a classy gesture, Ridgefield head coach Paul Fabbri got several seniors and other reserves into the game in the seventh inning.