Cheshire edges Ridgefield baseball team, 1-0, in state finals

In a game that became a classic pitchers' duel, the margin for error was razor thin. With base runners so sparse, something as typically insignificant as a seventh-inning defensive alignment proved to be a major factor in Ridgefield’s 1-0 loss to Cheshire in the Class LL state championship game Saturday at Palmer Field in Middletown.

With Ridgefield sophomore Matt DeLuca and Cheshire senior Ben DeLaubell matching zeroes, the game remained scoreless going into the seventh inning. DeLuca, who had pitched one and one-third innings out of the bullpen during Ridgefield's 10-inning, 2-1 victory over Amity in Wednesday's semifinal, finally began to show signs of tiring shortly after crossing the 100-pitch mark in the top of the seventh.

Cheshire's Ian Battipaglia led off the top of the seventh by reaching on a grounder that glanced off DeLuca's glove. When DeLuca walked two batters to load the bases with one out, senior Jake Artzt came on in relief for the Tigers. Ridgefield coach Paul Fabbri opted to keep middle infielders Matt Stamatis and Quinn McDonald at double-play depth instead of moving them in for a potential play at the plate.

DeLaubell then grounded out to McDonald at second base, with Battipaglia scoring on the play to put Cheshire ahead, 1-0. Artzt induced another groundout to keep Ridgefield's deficit at one run.

“We played to defend the bloop single," said Fabbri about his decision not to move his middle infielders in with DeLaubell at bat. “I remembered Joe Torre [and the New York Yankees] not playing the infield back against [the Arizona Diamondbacks'] Luis Gonzalez [in the seventh game of the 2011 World Series] and getting beat by a bloop hit."

DeLaubell allowed a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh before getting a pop out to secure his shutout and Cheshire's state championship.

In the end, it was a tantalizing final game to a sensational season for both teams, with DeLuca and DeLaubell leaving the opposing offensives stupefied. DeLaubell, who is headed to West Point, largely pitched to contact, recording just two strikeouts in a dominant three-hit shutout. Opposing him, DeLuca seemed nearly as untouchable, keeping Cheshire off-balance with his curveball and striking out six batters.

Making its first-ever appearance in a state title game, Ridgefield got singles from Nick Cullinan in the fifth inning, Matt Restivo in the sixth inning, and Nick Hanna in the seventh inning but failed to score against DeLaubell, who was named the game’s MVP.

For the Tigers, 2018 will be remembered as a season in which several established seniors — notably pitcher/outfielder Alex Price, third baseman Pete Columbia and shortstop Matt Stamatis — combined with classmates and emerging younger talents (like DeLuca) to nearly earn Ridgefield a long-elusive state title.

“I just thank the seniors for representing the school and their families so well,” said Fabbri, whose team finished with a 20-6 record. “It’s a great bunch of kids, and I thank them for a great three months. They made coaching a lot of fun.”

Notes: In addition to his single, Hanna hit a long fly ball that Cheshire's left-fielder caught at the brink of the warning track in the fifth inning.

DeLuca allowed one run (unearned) on five hits over six and one-third innings, walking four batters and striking out six.

Ridgefield finished the year with a team batting average of .307. Among players with 50 or more at-bats, Hanna led the way with a .364 average. Fellow seniors Price (.368), Stamatis (.333), Columbia (.325), McDonald (.304), and Ben Cohen (.291) added strong seasons at the plate.

Juniors Nick Cullinan (.333), Restivo (.306) and Joey Pastore (.262, team-high two home runs) also made big offensive contributions for the Tigers.

On the mound, Price (7-2, 1.51 ERA), Artzt (5-2, 1.69) and DeLuca (5-1, o.45) combined for a 17-5 record, giving Ridgefield one of the state's best starting rotations.