WESTPORT — Matt Stone is not underrated but he definitely has been overshadowed this spring. The Staples catcher has often been lost in the glare from the pitching staff he handles, his best offensive games too often becoming secondary storylines.
Stone entered today’s Class LL second round game against Danbury with 11 two-out RBIs, so when he came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded and score tied, it was a situation Stone both has grown accustomed to and relishes.
“I just love having runners on,” Stone said. “I know if I get a good swing on the ball I can get those guys in. I’ve just been focused with guys on base.”
Stone needed that solid contact, because getting balls by Danbury centerfielder Kenny Martinez, given his incredible range, is a sizable task. But Stone did just that on a deep fly that delivered the winning run and a 3-2 decision for the defending Class LL champions.
“I’m just thinking getting a pitch to drive,” Stone said. “He’d been working a lot of curveballs the past few at-bats and I was looking for one of those. I let a fastball go down the middle the first (pitch) but I knew I was getting the curve.”
The fifth-seeded Wreckers (19-5) advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinals against No. 4 Cheshire in what is shaping up to be a wonderful final week of the season: the one through seven and ninth seeds are still alive, a rarity in a sport not conducive to a single-elimination format and thus prone to postseason upheaval.
This was Staples’ third meeting with Danbury this season, the most recent coming a week ago in the FCIAC semifinals. The Hatters did not make the sweep come easy, answering the Wreckers’ two second-inning runs with a pair in the fourth on No. 9 hitter Justin Hope’s base hit.
Staples’ Harry Azadian, also facing the Hatters for the third time, did not allow another run through seven innings. Danbury’s Justin Solimine battled his control but remained steady through five innings, with Hope coming on in relief.
Max Popken hit a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth and Alex Reiner pinch-hit and put down a perfect bunt. A throwing error on the play put runners in scoring position.
Hope induced Chris Drbal to ground out, with Danbury shortstop Javon Hernandez holding the runner. After an intentional walk to Chad Knight, the Wreckers’ most dangerous batter, Hernandez made a great play to get the force at the plate on Drew Rogers’ grounder.
Hope, on the verge of getting out of the inning, first had to get by Stone.
“He’s had an unbelievable year. He wants it,” Staples coach Jack McFarland said. “He’s not looking for a walk. He’s looking for something right here he can put a swing on. He’s a confident kid.”
Stone, again, delivered.
“I saw that the coach had him in so I knew that if I could get something in the air it would get down, so I was just trying to do that, get a pitch I could elevate,” said Stone, referring to Martinez.
Chris Drbal and Rogers each had infield singles to stake Staples to the early lead. Stone, Azadian and Max Popken each had two hits.
Russ Krauss pitched the eighth inning for Staples and got the win.
“They took the opportunity and they seized it,” Danbury coach Shaun Ratchford said. “Both teams had opportunities. We had ours early and they had theirs late.”
Ratchford has referred several times during the past month to the talk he had with his seniors following a 2-7 start, and how with two more losses many would occupy seats on the bench the rest of the year.
Danbury (13-11) lost just twice more during the regular season and proved a tough out in the postseason.
“To their credit they threw us on their back, we started to have better practices, we executed things we needed to execute and I’m very proud of what they’ve done,” Ratchford said of his seniors. “We took the defending state champs eight innings.”