Needing one win for a Cal Ripken state championship, the Apponaug 12-year-old all-star team gave up five runs to CLCF in the first inning Thursday night.
For the rest of a long night, Apponaug never led.
CLCF held off every charge from Apponaug to win 18-10 and force a winner-take-all title game. There, CLCF pitcher Kennsey Marte turned in a dominant performance as CLCF knocked off Apponaug and won the championship with a 4-1 victory.
While the loss was disappointing, the Apponaug stars tipped their caps – and reflected on a great run.
“CLCF came to win. They're a good team, a real good team,” said Apponaug manager Vinny Palmiotti. “They gave everything they had and they made it a lot further than I thought they were going to. It's the furthest they've made it in years. They played their hearts out.”
Apponaug shocked CLCF, the defending state champions, with a victory in the winners' bracket final last Tuesday. That meant the Apponaug stars were sitting pretty, undefeated in the tourney. CLCF would have to beat them twice to win the title.
CLCF's approach didn't change. It beat Washington Park on Wednesday to get another shot at Apponaug on Thursday.
“One game at a time,” manager Frank DiLanna said. “Just keep battling. They never gave up.”
CLCF got the night off to a rousing start with a five-run burst in the first inning of game one. Logan Pacheco led off with a single. After Apponaug starter Dylan Palmiotti took care of the next two batters, five consecutive CLCF hitters reached base. Brett Traficante doubled, Noel Blanco plated two runs with a single, Matt Beyer walked and Zac Minicucci doubled home a run. John DeRouin brought in two more with a base hit.
“That set the tone,” DiLanna said. “We gained the momentum. I told them, 'Once we get a lead, they're going to feel the pressure.' We got the momentum and after that, we just kept hitting.”
Apponaug brought its bats too, but CLCF always managed to keep the stars at arm's length. Josh Coleman hit a pair of three-run homers and T.J. Kyle smashed a two-run blast as Apponaug scored four runs in the second inning and five in the third. Apponaug got as close as 13-10 in the bottom of the third, but CLCF scored five more runs and Pacheco finally put the brakes on the back-and-forth game with three scoreless innings.
“I joked about it every time I went to coach third,” Vinny Palmiotti said. “I said, 'Alright we're going to score three this time since you scored five.' We just couldn't get there.”
Gabe Densley went 4-for-4, while Coleman was 3-for-4 with the two homers and six RBI. Colin Csoszor added three hits.
Twenty minutes after game one ended, the teams were back on the field for game two.
This time, there was no slugfest.
Marte struck out 12 in the complete-game victory. Apponaug was limited to just three singles, one each from Ryan Carlson, Dylan Palmiotti and Josh Matteson.
“He was unbelievable,” DiLanna said. “He was throwing his off-speed stuff and their best hitters were being fooled. He was pulling the string on those pitches.”
And Marte had some help. CLCF again jumped to a first-inning lead, scoring two in the bottom of the frame. Pacheco singled and took second on a passed ball. Derek DiLanna followed with a base hit to right, and Pacheco took a big turn around third. When he held up, Apponaug got him into a rundown, but a throw to get Pacheco at home went wide, and he slid in safely. Marte followed with an RBI single.
Apponaug scored its only run in the second on an RBI single by Carlson. Carlson ended up on third, but Marte got two strikeouts and made a great play on a ground ball to end the inning.
CLCF then added two more runs in the third when Pacheco doubled, tagged up to get to third and scored on a passed ball. Beyer then knocked DiLanna in with a base hit.
And the three-run cushion was all Marte needed.
He struck out the side in both the third and fourth innings. In the fifth, he stranded a runner at third with two more strikeouts. And in the sixth, he struck out the first two batters on a total of seven pitches. Palmiotti, Apponaug's clean-up hitter, was the last hurdle, and Marte induced a ground ball to shortstop. DiLanna fielded and fired to DeRouin at first for the final out.
“He's a great pitcher,” Vinny Palmiotti said. “We faced him last year and he shut us down last year too.”
This shutdown performance ended Apponaug's run, but there were nothing but positive feelings about the experience. Apponaug hasn't had much all-star success in recent years, but this group broke the mold.
“Great summer,” Palmiotti said. “I'm proud of them all. I said to them, 'Who thought we were going to be here tonight?' About four of them raised their hands, and I wasn't one of them. I'm proud of them. We did a lot better than I thought we were going to do.”