DeLuca one-hits Newtown; Ridgefield advances to state semis

In the top of the first inning, Newtown’s leadoff batter doubled on a ball that nearly reached the outfield fence. But he failed to touch first base on the play and was called out.

With that went the Nighthawks' best offensive opportunity of the day against Ridgefield starter Matt DeLuca.

DeLuca, a sophomore right-hander, pitched a one-hit shutout as the third-seeded Tigers beat sixth-seed Newtown, 1-0, in a Class LL state quarterfinal game Saturday at Governor's Park. DeLuca struck out eight batters and walked one.

Ridgefield now meets seventh-seed Amity in the semifinals on Tuesday (June 5) at a site and time to be announced. Amity defeated Ridgefield, 8-5, in a non-conference game back on April 7.

Newtown starter Kyle Roche was almost as sharp as DeLuca. Roche held the Tigers to one run on four hits while striking out six and not walking a batter.

In early May, DeLuca developed a finger injury and didn't start for two weeks — when he returned, he threw an 85-pitch no-hitter against New Milford. Due to Ridgefield's early exit in the FCIAC playoffs — and the team's pitching depth — DeLuca was once again starting after a two-week break on Saturday. This time he threw 82 pitches, allowing only a one-out single in the fifth inning.

“Unbelievable. I’ve been coaching for over 25 years and I’ve never seen a sophomore with that type of composure,” said Ridgefield head coach Paul Fabbri about DeLuca. “To throw a one-hitter on this stage is unbelievable.”

“Matt DeLuca is just a sophomore, yet every time we’re just amazed at what he can do out there,” said Ridgefield senior third baseman Pete Columbia. “His poise and his confidence are incredible.”

The last Ridgefield pitcher to find similar success at the varsity level as a sophomore was current staff ace Alex Price (now a senior), who made nine appearances in 2016, going 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA. With a 4-0 record and an 0.54 ERA this season, DeLuca has raised the bar.

“DeLuca’s performance gives us a boost this season and much hope for the future. I’m amazed by his effort today,” said Fabbri.

The game's lone run came in the bottom of the fifth inning. Ridgefield first baseman Nick Cullinan hit a leadoff double and was replaced on the base paths by pinch runner Cole Blackwell, who promptly stole third base. One batter later, catcher Ben Cohen hit a deep sacrifice fly to right field that scored Blackwell and gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“[Kyle] Roche was pitching a great game; he was dealing all game long — both pitchers back and forth,” said Cullinan.  "I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball and see what happened.”

“For Ben [Cohen] to come up and drive that ball like he did was remarkable and a testament to him,” said Fabbri. “I wouldn’t take any other catcher back there; he’s fantastic.”

After Cohen's RBI, Johnny Briody singled and went to second base on a throwing error on the play. But Roche got the next batter on a groundout to keep Ridgefield's lead at 1-0.

The slim advantage was ocean wide for DeLuca, who retired Newtown in order in the sixth and seventh innings to complete his shutout.

After losing to Staples in the semifinals last year, Ridgefield will now look to beat Amity and reach the state title game for the first time in program history.

“We had [senior] prom last night, which can be a distraction, but the boys kept rolling and played an incredible game,” said senior outfielder Nick Hanna. “We’re all in for this state championship run.”