Advancing to the state semifinals for the first time since 2004, the Greenwich High School baseball team was one win away from making its first appearance in the Class LL Tournament since 1991.
The Cardinals entered Wednesday night’s Class LL Tournament semifinal showdown against Norwalk with 19 victories, but unfortunately for them, win No. 20 proved to be elusive.
Continuing its impressive postseason run, No. 24 Norwalk earned a berth into the state final, defeating fourth-seeded Greenwich, 7-5, in the Class LL semifinals before a big, enthusiastic bipartisan crowd at Cubeta Stadium in Stamford.
The Bears (13-9) will play for their first state championship against 19th-seeded Westhill (15-8). In the first Class LL semifinal played on Wednesday, Westhill topped 18th-seeded Brien McMahon, 13-7. Greenwich, which beat Cheshire, Newtown and Fairfield Warde on their way to traveling to the tournament’s semifinals, finished its season with a record of 19-5.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Greenwich coach Adrian Arango, who officially was in his first season guiding the squad, since the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the FCIAC and state this year, we went to places that we haven’t been to in a long time and it’s something that we’re going to build on. We need to build on what these 13 great seniors did for us.”
Norwalk, which dropped a 7-1 decision to Greenwich during the regular season, scored two runs in the first inning, scored three times in the third inning and plated a pair of runs in the fourth inning. The Bears led 2-0 after the first inning and were ahead, 5-2, before the Cardinals knotted the score at 5-5 in the third inning.
“I’m so thrilled, ecstatic, relieved,” Norwalk coach Ryan Mitchell said. “I think this is the first exhale I’ve had in 48 hours. I can’t say enough about our kids and their level of commitment. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do since winter workouts. To get to this point – it speaks to the hard work work they’ve put in and how they have consistently done things the right way.”
In the top of the fourth inning, senior outfielder Danny Miller’s run-scoring single to shallow left field put the Bears on top, 6-5, off Cardinals senior right-hander Matt Chioditti, who relieved sophomore righty Nathan Jones after three innings. The Bears added an insurance run in the seventh inning when senior Javier Gonzalez’s sacrifice fly scored Miller, making it 7-4.
“I can’t say enough good things about Matt,” Arango said. “He held the game where it needed to go. Nathan, a sophomore, won five games for us and pitched great for us all season.”
Gonzalez picked up the save, pitching two innings of relief. Senior right-hander Alistair Morin earned the win, throwing five effective innings for the Bears.
“Not a lot was working, but I trust these guys behind me in the dugout and I trust myself,” Morin said. “The offspeed pitch was there and it wasn’t. My fastball was there and it wasn’t, but you have to go out there and compete. It’s the same mentality, you have to win.”
Added Mitchell: “He (Morin) is the ultimate competitor. We preach compete, compete, compete. That kid controls his competitiveness. He’s our guy and I’m just so happy for him and our team.”
Norwalk scored the game’s first run, courtesy of Brendan Edvardsen. The senior designated hitter pulled a fastball from Jones over the left field fence for a home run to lead off the game, giving the Bears a 1-0 lead.
Sophomore second baseman Eddy Garabito reached on an infield error, senior first baseman William Arnold walked and with one out, senior catcher Jayden Echevarria singled to right center field, scoring Garabito and giving Norwalk a 2-0 lead.
The Cardinals responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second inning. Senior first baseman Cage Lasley led off the inning with a walk against Morin, senior shortstop Christian Mingione doubled to deep left field and Jack Zola, a senior outfielder, drove in Lasley with a ground ball to shortstop, cutting Norwalk’s lead to 2-1. Later in the inning, Bancroft’s ground out to first base plated Mingione, tying the score at 2-2.
The Bears used a three-run third inning to retake the lead at 5-2. Center fielder Vance Warde drew a bases-loaded walk from Jones, giving the Bears a one-run edge. A second run scored on a passed ball with the bases loaded and Edvardsen drove in a run with a slow roller to third that stayed fair, making it 5-2.
“That’s where baseball gets interesting, that’s the way the game breaks some times, when things like that happen,” Arango said. “Credit to Norwalk, they deserved to win. It wasn’t our best day, but I’m proud of my guys and the season they had, they did a great job throughout the season.”
Junior Ryan Perez brought the Cardinals to within 5-3 when he smashed a solo home run over the right field fence with one out in the third inning. After Justin Zych walked, Lasley reached second on an outfield error, while Zych advanced to third. Mingione then hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Zych, cutting the Bears advantage to 5-4.
Zola’s RBI single to center field off Morin tied the score at 5-5 in the third inning. The Vikings and Bears will meet for the Class LL championship on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Palmer Field.
“Those guys over there – that’s a quality team,” Mitchell said. “Adrian is a fantastic coach. They deserved to be here and they deserved to be there on Saturday. We were better tonight – we were just better tonight.”
The loss marked the final game in the varsity careers of Greenwich’s 13 seniors, which included Lasley, Carson Bylciw, John McGrath, Chioditti, Auggie Bancroft, Felipe Echeto, Jaden Lombardi, AJ Barber, Matias Fernandez, Michael Rose, Miles Langhorne and Zola.
“Last year was supposed to be our first year with coach Arango, but we got to experience it this year,” said Echeto, the Cards’ starting catcher. “We made a tremendous run. It hurts to say that we are out right now in the semifinals. But the kids next year know the job they have to do and the responsibility they have. We are all proud of every single player and every single coach, because we came really far. A lot of people doubted us and here we are in the semifinals.”
Langhorne, who was selected as the FCIAC Player of the Year and earned First Team All-FCIAC honors as a pitcher, did not pitch the final four games of the Class LL Tournament, after experiencing tightness in the lower part of his pitching arm in the opening round against Cheshire. However, he made his return to the diamond in Wednesday’s game and batted twice against Norwalk. Langhorne will take his baseball skills to Vanderbilt University.
“It was amazing to put on this uniform and to compete with some of my best friends in the world and these are some years I will never forget in my life,” Langhorne said. “We put together a great run, but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough. Hopefully, it will leave a bad taste in the younger guy’s mouths and it will drive them to work harder for next year’s group and hopefully we’ll watch them come back and do better.”
Though disappointed, when the members and coaches of the Greenwich team reflect on their season, they’ll no doubt, remember it as being special.
“When it’s your first group at a new school, you don’t know what to expect, but I’m so proud of these kids and so happy for these kids. It was a special season and they’re Cardinals forever, they’re Cardinals for life.”