Greenwich senior Christian Mingione has been accustomed to throwing runners out at first base from his shortstop position this season, but entering Saturday’s Class LL Baseball Tournament quarterfinal-round game against Fairfield Warde, he had yet to retire a batter at the plate, since he hadn’t pitched an inning.
That changed in a significant way for Mingione and the Cardinals on Saturday.
After Cage Lasley drove in the go-ahead run with another clutch hit, Mingione was inserted as a relief pitcher with the Cardinals holding a three-run seventh-inning lead.
Retiring three batters, after entering the inning with two runners on base, Mingione closed out the game for fourth-seeded Greenwich, which earned a berth in the CIAC Class LL semifinals with a 5-2 win over fifth-seeded Warde.
Greenwich, which make its first appearance in the state semifinals since the 2004 season, plays Norwalk on Tuesday at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury at 7 p.m.
“This is why we do it, making it to the semifinals – it’s the best feeling in the world,” Mingione said.
With Greenwich holding a 5-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning, Mingione, a shortstop, was brought into relieve senior right-hander Matt Chioditti, after Mustangs senior Jack Corcoran led off the inning with a double and junior Roman Digiacomo drew a walk.
The final two outs were the result of a double play, as junior right fielder Ryan Perez caught a sinking line drive toward the foul line, threw to second base and doubled up the Warde baserunner to end the game.
Chioditti earned the win, pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. He struck out two batters, after relieving senior left-hander Carson Bylciw, who pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing two runs, with four strikeouts and four walks.
“I was ready since last night, Carson pitched his heart out today and when I went in there I had to believe in myself and have confidence that I could get out of the inning (he entered the game in a fourth-inning jam) and that’s what I did,” Chioditti said.
The Cardinals’ winning pitcher joked about making it a challenge for Mingione in his first pitching appearance of the season.
“I didn’t make it easy for him, but I had to help him out, he hadn’t gone in all year, I had to set the table for him and let him show off,” a smiling Chioditti said. “No words can describe this feeling. Making it to the Final Four – it’s what you dream of.”
In the pivotal bottom of the sixth inning, Greenwich scored three runs to take a 5-2 lead on Warde.
Mingione began the sixth inning against Warde sophomore left-hander Jack Passeck with a walk. Lasley followed by hitting a triple to deep left center field, scoring pinch runner James Babb and giving Greenwich a 3-2 lead.
“We knew we needed to score, Matt gave us a chance and Mingione came on in the seventh and shut the door,” said Lasley, who delivered the game-winning, walk-off hit in the Cards’ Round of 16 win against Newtown. “Warde’s a great team, we would love to play them every single day, it’s a competitive ball club.”
Greenwich coach Adrian Arango has seen Lasley and his team come through at the plate in late-game, clutch situations.
“Cage he won it for us on Wednesday for a walk-off and has been locked in the last two weeks,” Arango said. “I told the boys we’ve had some stagnant innings here. Their pitchers did a great job and we had some great at-bats in the sixth inning.”
Senior left fielder Jack Zola smashed a double off the right field fence off Warde sophomore reliever Paddy Galvin that scored another run, making it 4-2. Auggie Bancroft, a senior second baseman, capped the inning with an RBI double to center field, giving the Cards a 5-2 advantage.
“I was going through a bit of a slump and coach was just saying be short to the ball and I did my best to put the ball in play,” Bancroft said.
Said Zola: “We started off fast in the second inning, we scored two there and then we were a little slow, 3, 4, 5, then in the sixth inning, Cage hit a huge triple to left center. And the coaches told me to get a fly ball to right field to score the run and that’s what I tried to do.”
Zola had one hit and one RBI, Bancroft had one hit and drove in a run, junior center fielder Tyler Cusimano delivered a run-scoring single and senior catcher Felipe Echeto had a hit and scored a run for the 19-4 Cardinals. For Warde (19-4), junior right fielder John Heitzman went 3 for 4 with one RBI, junior second baseman Jack Andrews had one hit and an RBI and sophomore third baseman Griffin Polley had a hit and scored a run. Today marked the third meeting of the season between the Cardinals and Mustangs. Greenwich won the regular season matchup, 10-3, and Warde beat the Cardinals for the FCIAC title last week, 9-0, before the rivals met today.
In today’s state quarterfinal, the fifth-seeded Mustangs recorded eight hits and drew eight walks, but also left 13 runners on base.
“Tip your cap to Greenwich, they capitalized on their opportunities,” Warde coach Brett Conner said. “We had some opportunities today that we didn’t capitalize on. But I would love to play them every single day, because they bring out the best in us, I think we bring the best out of them and it’s fun baseball.”
Greenwich seized a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning off Passeck. Zola reached on an infield error to start the inning and Echeto followed by singling to left center field. Bancroft advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and senior John McGrath hit a sacrifice fly to center field, giving the home team a 1-0 lead. Cusimano then singled up the middle, making it 2-0. Trailing 2-0, the Mustangs knotted the score with a pair of runs in the fourth inning. Junior Jake Balogh doubled off Bylciw and scored on Polley’s single up the middle. Andrews’ run-scoring single evened the game at 2-2.
Behind 2-0, the Mustangs knotted the score with a pair of runs in the fourth inning. Junior Jake Balogh doubled off Bylciw and scored on Polley’s single up the middle. Andrews’ run-scoring single evened the game at 2-2.
“I’m proud of my guys in all aspects,” Conner said. “They started this game at age five, went all the way through what Fairfield baseball has to offer and made it through the very end. They have a lot to be proud of. The seniors are going out as champions and no one is taking that from them.”
After the Mustangs put two runners on base in the seventh inning, Arango didn’t hesitate to call for Mingione to take the mound.
“He had some arm trouble in the beginning of the year and when Miles (Langhorne) went out on Tuesday (he exited his start in Tuesday’s opening-round game against Cheshire with stiffness in his forearm) the first thing he said to me is ‘coach, I am ready to go whenever you need me,” Arango said. “I know some people think you’re crazy to bring in a guy who hasn’t thrown all year, but I have so much confidence in that kid to do anything, so to me was a no-brainer after what Matty (Chioditti) did for us,” Arango said.
Said Mingione: “This season, I actually started the year with a forearm injury, so this is my first outing. I threw a bullpen probably a week ago and it’s a great feeling to be able to help them any way I can. I know my defense has my back. Ryan (Perez) made a great play, a heads-up play.”
Chioditti has consistently come through on the mound when called upon to pitch.
“Matty C, he’s great every time he’s on the mound,” Bancroft said. “I can’t say enough about how great he’s pitched.”
“His first two years he didn’t make the team and he kept pitching and pitching,” Arango said of Chioditti. Every time he has gone out there, he’s helped us win games against major opponents. He’s the picture of perseverance and toughness. Carson got his confidence back and that’s what we need from him.”
Greenwich can’t wait to take the diamond again for its next game, but first of course, there’s a practice or two.
“This is the last time we are going to be on this field for a game and we love that we get to come back here and practice the next couple of days,” Arango said. “And we have another game.”
Said Lasley: “It’s an awesome feeling, I can’t remember the last time Greenwich has been in the state semifinals and I’m honored to help lead them into it. It’s a great team win.”