Baseball

Ludlowe Remains Unbeaten After 11-Inning Win Over Danbury

Fairfield Ludlowe’s Connor O’Neill (23) congratulates Blake Benway after his game-winning sacrifice fly. (Mark Conrad)

FAIRFIELD — It is a little too early in the season to begin applying the team-of-destiny label, so we will hold off on any futuristic adjectives when discussing the Fairfield Ludlowe baseball team.

Even if right now it is looking very much like a team of destiny.

A caught fly ball away from suffering their first defeat, the Falcons capitalized on a fortuitous single and came away with a 4-3 victory in 11 innings, a circuitous contest in which both teams took turns squandering chances when on the brink of victory and dodging from the precipice of defeat.

“It was a really fun game,” said Chris Benton, who got the win with three innings of scoreless relief. “A lot of times it looked like they were going to strike and we were going to strike, missed opportunities but we came out on top.”

The winning run came on a sacrifice fly from catcher Blake Benway, who made his first career start and had one at bat at the start of the day.

Falcons second baseman Brian Howell throws out a runner. (Mark Conrad)

Ludlowe is 4-0 and all of their wins have come on walkoff hits when you count the one against Naugatuck that made the 10-run rule applicable.

“This has been some crazy start to the season,” Ludlowe coach Mike Francese said. “Every game a walkoff, three games in extra innings against good teams. We have a special group this year. Fifteen seniors and even the juniors. They have experience together and work hard together and play a great game. They have a lot of heart.”

The Falcons road their offense a year ago, but won today despite having five of their eight hits come in extra innings. Starting pitcher James Delmiche allowed two first-inning runs but then shut down the Hatters, giving up just three hits over five innings. Connor O’Neill gave up a run and hit over three innings, striking out four and serving as a bridge for Benton, who has been limited after suffering a broken bone in his face after getting hit by a pitch in the preseason.

Danbury shortstop Javon Hernandez fields a line drive. (Mark Conrad)

“The three of them have been excellent so far,” Francese said. “Delmiche pitched a really strong game and O’Neill has been great out of the pen, and the same with Benton. They go in there, they find the zone and that’s all you can ask for in a pitcher, throw strikes and let the defense play behind you.”

Danbury ace Justin Solimine allowed just one earned run and three hits over seven innings and was deserving of a better fate.

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Ludlowe overcame a 2-0 deficit in the sixth on a double by Vince Camera, an error and a wild pitch. Danbury regained the lead in the top of the eighth on a pair of errors and seemed to have the win when, with two outs and a runner on, Jamie Flink hit a routine fly to left. But the ball dropped between three players and the tying run scored.

Ludlowe shortstop Jack Vogel gets the throw in time to tag out Danbury’s Jake Matson. (Mark Conrad)

The Falcons had runners on second and third with no outs in the ninth and had the lead runner picked off.

Tom Stasko, who started the day with two of the Falcons’ game-winning hits, led off the 11th with a single. Greg Calabrese followed with a base hit and then Benway got the ball deep enough to center to deliver the deciding run.

“You need some luck in baseball,” Francese said. “Baseball’s a funny game and sometimes you get lucky and you just have to keep fighting and today we kept fighting and we came up winners at the end against a really great team.”

Benton said he was able to maintain focus amid the wildness all around.

Ludlowe’s Tom Stasko celebrates scoring the game-winning run. (Mark Conrad)

“I’m just trying to pump the zone, throw strikes and give my defense a chance to work and they really did, especially Brian Howell at second base a few times,” Benton said. “Some crazy plays out there.”

Howell demonstrated his range at second base by taking away hits with catches in short rightfield and up the middle.

“They hustled their rear ends off. They never gave up, they never quit. I love that,” Danbury coach Shaun Ratchford said. “Their second baseman made two great plays just on sheer will. Those are the kids I love to coach. Those are the kids I love to play against.”

Andrew Philbin, who suffered the loss, finished with two hits for Danbury, which is now 2-2.

“Losing is losing. You’re going to lose games. We had chances,” said Ratchford. “Justin and Andrew pitched extremely well and I’m happy with that.”