Ridgefield's baseball aces deal with New Canaan, 4-2

It’s make-or-break time in the FCIAC playoff race and for the Ridgefield Tigers, everything seems to been breaking right.

The Tigers overcame some early sluggishness and, behind strong pitching performances from Jake Artzt and Alex Price, defeated the New Canaan Rams, 4-2, on Wednesday in Mead Park.

It was the eighth consecutive victory for Ridgefield (14-3 overall, 11-2 FCIAC), which sits atop the conference standings with just three games remaining. The Tigers own tiebreakers over the three teams directly behind them in the standings, giving them a clear path to the top seed.

New Canaan (9-8, 7-6) saw its FCIAC playoff chances take a hit, losing for the fourth time in six games, but the Rams are still in the hunt, locked in a three-way tie for seventh place at the moment.

Ridgefield managed to take advantage of some early troubles by New Canaan, scoring two runs in each of the first two innings. Artzt and Price then nailed it down from the mound.

“We were a little sluggish and a little flat,” Ridgefield head coach Paul Fabbri said. “They kind of gift-wrapped four runs with the walks and the guy couldn’t find the plate and then we went to sleep. We think we’re going to get everybody’s best effort because we’re sitting in first place. The difference between teams that win or loss is that you get the hit at the opportune time.”

“We couldn’t overcome our early mistakes,” New Canaan Head coach Geoff Lambert said. “Two walks and a hit batter, we couldn’t overcome that. And then they brought their ace to close it and shut us down. We didn’t put the bat on the ball enough. Two weeks ago we were hitting the snot out of the ball and now we’re struggling for hits. We’re playing quality teams now.”

Artzt worked the first five innings and allowed two runs on five hits, walked none and struck out three to get the victory.

The lefty Price came into the start the sixth inning and threw darts, retiring all six batters he faced, including three via strikeouts.

“He’s unbelievable,” Fabbri said of Price. “I don’t know what the rest of the state looks like, but if I’m in a big-money game, there’s not a kid I’d rather have (on the mound). He’s 5-1 now and 14-2 over the last two years. He has that presence out there — a lefty, a little velocity and command. He competes and he wants it.”

New Canaan found a weapon out of the bullpen in Andrew Jordan. He was called on in the second frame when starter Patrick Metzger had a bout of wildness and Jordan was very effective, pitching five and one-third innings and allowing no runs on four hits and no walks with three strikeouts.

“I can’t say enough about what Andrew Jordan did,” Lambert said. “He’s been floating down to JV and we wanted him to get his pitching in, because at beginning of the season he wasn’t going to be pitching, and I think he just worked his way into the rotation. He gave us a chance to win today, but unfortunately, we couldn’t overcome those first two innings.”

Trouble started early for the Rams, as Metzger walked the first two batters, Price and Matthew Stamatis, and then hit Pete Columbia to load the bases. Metzger fanned the next hitter, but Ridgefield scored two runs on a single by Nick Hanna and a sacrifice fly by Joe Pastore.

Metzger got a strikeout to start the second inning, but walked the next two, forcing the Rams to call on Jordan. Both runners eventually scored to put Ridgefield up 4-0.

New Canaan got one back in the home half of the second after Chase Fichtner was hit by a pitch, Ben Sarda reached on an infield single, and Mike Tuffy bunted for a hit to load the bases with no outs.

Artzt, however, worked out of the jam in pretty good shape, as he got Grant Morse to ground into a 6-4-3 double play with one run scoring, and then ended the inning with a K.

Artzt sailed through the third and fourth innings, before giving up one more run in the fifth. A single by Frank Ramppen set the table and a booming RBI double by Nate Bozzella plated the runner to make it 4-2. Artzt ended that inning without further damage before turning the game over to Price.

“They had a rally there (in the second) and Jake shut it down and that’s the difference,” Fabbri said. “Our pitching has been superb all year. Jake had another great outing — two runs and another win. He had a win in the suspended game against Trumbull and last Monday against Staples he came on (in relief) in a one-run game against Staples and shut the door.”

Both teams will be back in action with road games on Friday, as Ridgefield plays at Norwalk and New Canaan plays at St. Joseph.

For the Rams, limiting mistakes and timely hitting will determine their playoff fate.

“We’ve got to cut down on the mistakes we made in the field,” Lambert said. “We have a fine margin for victory. We basically have to play mistake-free. I’m not unhappy with the way we’re playing, but we do make some mistakes at key times or we don’t get the pitching when we need it. That put us behind the eight ball in the first two innings (today).

“They’ve been playing well, but we just have to start hitting better. When we’re hitting, we’re good.”