GREENWICH – Already on the losing end of two, tough, one-run games to FCIAC opponents this season, Greenwich’s baseball team was on the verge of dropping another tight matchup today, with Staples right-hander Alex Oppenheimer taking a perfect game into the seventh inning.
That’s right, the Wreckers’ strike-throwing senior was absolutely perfect, retiring the first 18 batters he faced and Greenwich coach Adrian Arango and the Cardinals were hoping the baseball gods would bring good fortune for them this time.
“I’m standing there in the last inning – I think I was part of some perfect games in Little League as a player or something – and I’m thinking to myself, the way the first two FCIAC games have gone, losing by one run, the way we lost to McMahon (a walk-off on an extra inning home run), something has to give here,” Arango said.
Well, it certainly was a challenge, but the Cardinals got a close game to go in their favor against a league foe, courtesy of Justin Zych.
A senior third baseman/captain, Zych hit a two-run single to left field off Staples reliever Hiro Wyatt in the bottom of the seventh inning, lifting Greenwich to a 2-1 comeback win over the visiting Wreckers.
The dramatic victory snapped a three-game losing streak to Greenwich (4-3), with two of those losses coming by one run.
“It’s definitely huge,” Zych said of the victory. “Three in a row, we couldn’t make it four, especially starting 0-2 in the FCIAC.”
Oppenheimer was brilliant on the mound for Staples (3-1). He took a perfect game into the seventh inning and wound up pitching six hitless innings. He lost his bid for a perfect game when he issued a walk to Cardinals senior left fielder Javier Serra to start the seventh inning. Senior right fielder Ryan Perez followed by reaching base safely on an infield error, which also resulted in Serra advancing to third with no one out. Staples coach Jack McFarland then made a pitching change, inserting Wyatt into the game.
“He was at 75 pitches, so that’s as far as he was going to go today,” McFarland said of Oppenheimer. “He was throwing the ball real well, he was at 70 pitches going into the seventh.”
With Wyatt on the mound, Perez stole second base, setting up a second-and-third situation with Zych at the plate. Getting a curve ball after fouling off several tough pitches, Zych lined it into left field for a base hit, scoring Serra and Perez and giving the Cards the win.
“I had runners on second and third no outs, I knew I had to put the ball in play, ideally to the outfield for a sac fly,” Zych said. “He’s (Wyatt) a really good pitcher, committed to Duke, he throws hard, so I had to start early and be ready for all his pitches. I fought off his off-speed and was ready for the pitch at the end to take advantage of it.”
Pitching from ahead in the count throughout, Oppenheimer struck out eight batters, walked just one, but was charged with both runs.
“He was obviously fantastic, we couldn’t do anything off him the whole day, but we were able to make a push for those two runs and had a lot of energy at the end,” Zych said.
Perez, also one of the Cardinals’ captains, also had a key at-bat in the final inning, putting the ball in play against Oppenheimer, who mixed his pitches effectively throughout.
“I think we did good today, unfortunately he had a perfect game through six innings,” Perez said. “I think that shows how tough our team is. He was good, he shut us down. In that situation you have to put the ball in play and anything can happen.”
While the Wreckers received outstanding pitching, the Cardinals also got solid performances on the mound from their three hurlers. Senior captain Tyler Cusimano received the start and the right-hander allowed one run on three hits in four innings, striking out five. Vinny Pavonetti, also a senior, pitched one scoreless inning and Perez threw two innings for his first varsity win on the mound in his first appearance.
“Tyler Cusimano – second outing of the year, first start, gives us four great innings,” Arango said. “Vinny Pavonetti , a senior, gives us an inning and Ryan got the win in his first varsity appearance on the mound. Everyone who contributed to this win was a senior, or senior captain.”
Staples took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Senior Finn Popken drew walk against Cusimano with one out, junior second baseman Justin Kline singled, then junior right fielder Mike Porzio lined a single up the middle, scoring Popken and putting the Wreckers on top, 1-0. The visitors had a chance to score more runs in the inning, but Cusimano worked out of a bases loaded, one-out jam.
“When you don’t score runs and leave the door open, that’s what happens,” McFarland said of the loss.” We had opportunities to tack on earlier in the game and we didn’t do it and that’s what happens in high school baseball, because we don’t have that bottom of the seventh.”
Oppenheimer struck out two batters in the second inning, had a strikeout in the third, one in the fourth and fanned two more batters in the fifth.
“He was tremendous – first pitch strikes,” Arango said of Oppenheimer. “He’s as good as anyone we’re going to face. Sharp fastball for strikes, he hit spots, he threw a curve ball anytime we needed to. We’ve been scuffling at the plate, but out of all the kids we’ve faced, he’s right up there with the best.”
Arango was impressed with the poise Zych showed at the plate in the seventh inning.
“Against the best guys, Justin seems to rise to the occasion,” Arango said. “He did it against it always seems like the better pitchers, Justin is always on those guys.”
Greenwich is in action again Friday against host Norwalk, while Staples is on the road against Danbury.
“Hopefully it carries on to the future, we have Norwalk on Friday, so we can’t stop now and we have to ride the momentum until the end of the FCIAC schedule,” Zych said.