BRIDGEPORT — Pitching and defense have been the mainstays for the Wilton High School baseball team this spring, but it was the offense tonight that carried it to the brink of its second league title in three years.
The Warriors scored eight runs in the first inning and rolled to a 12-3 win over defending champion Darien in the semifinal round of the FCIAC baseball tournament. It was their seventh straight win — and more runs than they had scored in all but five games this season.
“We’ve had stretches where we could have done better offensively, but today it really came through,” said Wilton second baseman Collin Kahal, who went 3-for-3, with three runs scored and two RBIs. “We came alive in that first inning and kept the pressure on them.”
Wilton will meet Ridgefield on Friday for the title. The Tigers defeated Trumbull in the second game, 3-2, setting up another conference final between the two rival towns in three months. Ridgefield defeated Wilton for the boys basketball championship.
Wilton’s first three batters singled in the opening inning. By the time it had ended, there were six hits, a pair of errors and a sizable margin for the Blue Wave to make up.
“It is one of the few times we have done this all year and it gave us a cushion, but you know what the problem was for us?” Wilton coach Tim Eagen said. “I said the game was going to be won on the pitchers’ mound, and they struggled to throw strikes and so did we after the first inning.”
Darien’s first four batters walked in the second inning, leading to two runs. It added another in the third, but Wilton answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
“Coming back there was really a big key,” Eagen said.
Dillon Lifrieri also had three hits and two RBIs for the Warriors, the No. 2 seed, who improved to 18-4 overall. Henry Strmecki, Kyle Phillips and Jack DiNanno had two hits apiece for Wilton, which finished with 14. Cole Judelson drove in two runs.
“We were seeing the ball, hitting well,” Kahal said. “We showed what we are capable of today. We will try and keep it going on Friday.”
Wilton will meet either Ridgefield or Trumbull in the final.
Kahal said the mindset playing with a big lead was no different than from the start of the game.
“Pressure, pressure, pressure, until we finally break their backs,” Kahal said.
Ryan Gabriele didn’t bat but played a significant role in the outcome. He came on in the third inning and allowed just two hits over 3 2/3 innings, not putting a strain on the Warriors’ pitching heading into the final.
“Gabriele was the unsung hero,” Eagen said. “He settled the whole thing down.”
Billy Black, who will get the start in the final, pitched the seventh.
“I wanted to get Billy set with the atmosphere and get the inning in,” Eagen said. “We swung the bats very very well all night long, and that’s a good team we beat. This game gives us all kinds of confidence no matter who we play Friday night.”
That sentiment was echoed by Kahal, who will get the chance to start in his second FCIAC championship.
“It’s our confidence,” Kahal said. “The team is coming together and we are feeling it in the field and at the plate. We’re hoping to keep it going. It’s actually totally different from two years ago. A totally different team. Same idea of just win, win, but a lot of fun guys.”
In the second game, the Tigers rode another sterling performance from Alex Price, who allowed six hits over six innings to improve to 7-0, with two saves.
“I felt pretty good,” Price said. “There were a little bit of nerves in the first inning but once you get going it’s just another game of baseball. It was just very fun and very cool.”
Dustin Siqueira staked Trumbull (11-11) to a 1-0 lead in the third with an RBI single, but a spectacular two-out diving catch by leftfielder Tony Macchia with the bases loaded minimized the damage.
Ridgefield (17-5), the No. 4 seed, took the lead an inning later on an RBI double by Pete Columbia and a run-scoring groundout by John Thrasher, who later chased down a deep fly in center to help stifle a rally.
In the sixth, Collin Lowe, the Tigers’ other pitching ace, led off with a triple and scored on a wild pitch.
After Trumbull got a run back in the sixth when Danny Ruchalski doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly, Lowe came on in the seventh for the save, working out of a jam with two runners on and none out.
Speaking of having one of the best one-two pitching combinations in the state, Ridgefield coach Paul Fabbri said, “Quite frankly we should be playing in the championship game. If we’re not I’m doing a bad job. They’re as good as we’ve ever had.”