RIDGEFIELD — The members of the Ridgefield baseball team have admittedly had chips on their shoulders since opening day. The Tigers got little attention during the preseason. Where others saw uncertainty coming off a missed year due to the coronavirus pandemic, they saw a title contender.
And Ridgefield, after a slow start, has spent the last month turning belief into fact.
In a game with huge implications for league tournament seeding, the Tigers relied on their bats early and pitching in the end to come away with a 7-3 win over Norwalk.
Daniel Bucciero finished with two hits and three RBIs. His two-run double in the bottom of the first keyed a three-run inning after Eddy Garabito-Soto staked the Bears to a lead with a solo home run.
“It was big,” Bucciero said of the Tigers’ quick response. “We like to get started early and today we got that. Every day we try and get better, put some runs on the board, try to do as much as possible to help our pitchers out.”
Ben Cherico pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief — Andrew Castelluccio made the start — to get the save, though the ending was dramatic. Cherico gave up a walk and was nicked for two singles in the seventh, bringing the tying run to the plate with one out. But Cherico came back with consecutive strikeouts for the Tigers’ third straight win and fourth in the last five games.
“We had a great week this week going 3-0,” Bucciero said. “Coach before the week told us these are going to be some really good games and we did our best to put up some runs.”
Ridgefield coach Mike Scarlett opted to give one- and two-word answers during a postgame interview.
After the slow start the Tigers have been one of the league’s hottest teams, winning 10 of 12 games. Heading into the final two games before the playoffs start a week from today, Fairfield Warde (12-2 league play), which lost to Brien McMahon tonight, is a game ahead of Greenwich (11-3). The teams close the regular season on Wednesday. A game behind the Cardinals at 10-4 sit Ridgefield, Trumbull and Staples.
This season all 16 teams qualify for the playoffs. The first two rounds will be played at the higher seed, so finishing in the top four provides an advantage. The Tigers have defeated Greenwich and Staples and lost to Trumbull. They have a 4-3 record at home, where they usually get a vocal crowd that sits close to the field.
“Having a home game has been great the past few games,” Bucciero said. “We get some great fans in the stands helping us out. Having two home games would be great.”
Ridgefield finishes the regular season with road games against Westhill and St. Joseph.
Luke D’Antonio had two hits for Ridgefield.
Norwalk (9-6, 8-6) started the day a game behind the Tigers. After breaking out of a slump with a 13-5 win over rival Brien McMahon on Wednesday, the Bears outhit Ridgefield, 11-8, but stranded 10 runners.
“We had more hits than they did but we just scattered them,” Norwalk coach Ryan Mitchell said. “We had guys on base just about every inning. Put pressure on them all game long. We were two or three two-out hits short, but we competed. We grinded it out. A lot of teams down here 6-1 against a good team would have packed it in, would have folded. That’s just not how we approach it. I’m pleased with the effort, not pleased with the result obviously.”
Brendan Edvardsen had three hits and drove in a run for Norwalk. Garabito-Soto and Ben Boccanfuso added two hits apiece. The Bears scored twice in the fifth to make the score 6-3 but could get no closer.
Norwalk sits in the middle of a pack of seven teams behind the top five, but has to finish against Greenwich and Trumbull.
“We don’t really lack for confidence,” Mitchell said. “We know that we can play and we know that we can compete with anyone in the league, we just have to find a way to put it all together. We’ve put it together maybe two or three times on the year. If we can figure out how to do that consistently in the next two weeks, you never know.”
Meanwhile the Tigers are content not to shed that chip just yet.
“I think we’ve been the underdog all season,” Bucciero said. “Going into the season not many people thought we were going to be much but everyone should hear us now. We’ve proved ourselves over and over again and you’ve just got to look out for us.”