WATERBURY – The expected pitchers’ duel in Wednesday’s Class LL baseball semifinal between Staples and Ridgefield did eventually occur.
But not without an unexpected twist.
Before eight outs were recorded in the game there were six runs scored, six hits, three for extra bases, three walks, a hit batsman and four wild pitches.
And one of the aces, Ridgefield’s Alex Price, had been relieved. From there, it was an amended battle and Staples righthander Ben Casparius and Ridgefield reliever Collin Lowe did not disappoint.
Ultimately, Casparius, who had an early two-run lead to work with, got stronger while Lowe finally ran out of gas and Staples earned a berth in the state championship game with a 7-3 victory.
Casparius showed why he is expected to play for the University of North Carolina next year (unless the money looks too good to turn down after Monday’s MLB draft). He struck out 14 and allowed four hits in propelling the No. 11-seed Wreckers (17-8) to their second state final in three years and fourth all time.
“It was 2-2 (after one inning) but once (Staples) got two more in the second, Casparius said, ‘That’s it. No more,’ ” Ridgefield coach Paul Fabbri said after his team’s bid to become Ridgefield’s first baseball state finalist came up short. “He is no doubt the best pitcher we faced this year.”
Casparius, who hit 90 on occasion on the speed gun, struggled in the first inning, yielding hits by John Thrasher and Lucas Furneri, one walk, a wild pitch and a balk, which allowed Ridgefield to tie it at 2 after the Wreckers had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. But Casparius then retired 15 of the next 16 batters, 11 on strikeouts.
“The first inning I might have been a little nervous,” Casparius said. “Sometimes it takes me two or three innings to reach my potential. But once we got two runs in the second, I felt very confident and it was just another day at the office.”
“Ben was dominant,” Staples coach Jack McFarland added. “He has stood tall and been a stud on the mound for us all season. Yes, there might have been some jitters early but his slider was really working today. He’s so smooth. He doesn’t sweat much.”
Casparius did allow two runs against Ridgefield subs in the bottom of the seventh, but no sweat. Casparius ended up striking out 10 in his final 3 1/3 innings of work. McFarland let him finish up because it had already been determined because of his pitch count that Casparius would be unavailable to take the mound for the final, which will be Saturday at noon against Amity at Middletown’s Palmer Field.
“Yeah, I was hoping we’d put up some big numbers early so I could come out and then get back out there (in the final),” Casparius said.
Instead, it will be Chad Knight against Amity.
“We are in excellent shape with Chad,” McFarland said. “No worries.”
The worries started early for Fabbri. Price, who was 9-0 with three saves for the seventh-seeded Tigers (20-7), allowed four hits by Knight, Casparius, Matt Stone and Drew Rogers, and a walk in the first inning. Then after a leadoff walk in the second, the lefty hit Chris Drbal with a pitch. Fabbri had seen enough and went to Lowe.
“I had pitched in a bunch of big games so there are no excuses,” Price said. “Let’s face it, (Staples) put some good swings on me. They were aggressive with the bats. Obviously I would’ve liked to stay in but making the change (to Lowe) was the best thing for the team.”
Price’s line was one strikeout, two walks, four earned runs, four hits in one-plus inning.
“Alex deserved the ball today after the way he pitched for us this season,” Fabbri added. “For 13 games he was fantastic. He pitched eight strong innings the first time we played (in Staples’ 2-1 victory over Ridgefield on May 8). So there’s no second-guessing.”
Lowe was spectacular after replacing Price in the top of the second. His two inherited runners did score, albeit without the benefit of a hit, but he allowed no runs or hits over the next four innings while striking out 10. He also walked five, though, which led to a lot of pitches and the Wreckers got to a tiring Lowe in the sixth. Knight’s RBI triple and Mike Fanning’s RBI single keyed the three-run rally that gave Staples a 7-2 lead.
So, the pitching duel did materialize, just not as expected. And it was Casparius standing tall at the end … not unexpected.
“This means everything to me, to make the final again,” Casparius said. The Wreckers were runners-up in 2015 and will be looking for their first state championship since 2001. “Hopefully this time we can win it.”
Knight had two hits and two RBIs for Staples while Fanning had two RBIs.