MILFORD — The Stratford 8-year-old Cal Ripken All-Stars will be going to the World Series, just not in the fashion they hoped.
Despite coming within one strike of securing the New England championship, Stratford couldn’t hold down Fall River (Mass.), which scratched out a run in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the score and eventually came out on top 3-2 thanks to a bases=loaded, walk-off walk in the eighth on Thursday at Francis Field.
Stratford (5-2 in the tournament) will be joining Fall River (6-0), which automatically qualified as New England champ, in the Cal Ripken World Series slated for Aug. 8-15 in Cherry Hills, N.J. Fall River handed Stratford its only two losses, both in extra innings, of the New England competition.
Not a whole lot separated these two clubs, Stratford manager Carl Sakowicz concurred, it’s just that Fall River made the plays it needed to make.
“This was one of the greatest games we’ve ever been involved in,” Sakowicz said. “We made a mistake and they capitalized on it. We had a chance to win it but they kept battling and we kept battling. It was a great game by both teams.”
Stratford held a 2-1 lead going into the sixth with pitcher Papo Quattrucci mowing down the opposition. He struck out the side in the fifth, rang up the first two batters in the sixth and had a 3-2 count on RJ Fitzgerald, who worked a walk.
Fitzgerald took second on a wild pitch and Luke Mederios followed with a base hit over the head of the first baseman. The right fielder misplayed the ball and Fitzgerald came across with the tying run.
“From day 1 we’ve been saying we do it together,” Fall River manager Craig Araujo said. “We chant that before every game — together — and it doesn’t matter who was up. That was a heck of an at-bat by RJ, working the walk, and Luke came up and had the hit of his life. One through 12 (in the lineup) it doesn’t matter with this team because anyone can come through. We were down (in the sixth) but we never gave up.”
Araujo went on to say his team’s strengths are defense and pitching and they certainly paid off in the championship.
Stratford had a chance to push across the go-ahead run in the seventh with the bases loaded with two outs but Fitzgerald, who wound up getting the win, came on in relief and struck out the next batter to end the threat.
Unfortunately for Stratford, leaving runners on base came back to haunt the all-stars. They stranded 12 runners on base in total.
“We just couldn’t get the big hit,” Sakowicz said. “I thought their shortstop (Brayden Souza) took three runs away from us. We didn’t hit like we usually do but they had some good pitching and they played great defense.”
In addition, Fall River made just about all the plays in the field with only one error. Stratford, on the other hand, made three errors.
Noah Cahoon started things off in the eighth with a walk and advanced to second and third on wild pitches. After a strikeout, Shea Doyle reached on a fielder’s choice with shortstop Vinny Fuentes holding the runner at third. Noah Primo walked to load the bases and set the stage for Brady Mak, who walked on a 3-2 pitch to force in the game-winning run.
Fall River grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first on an RBI groundout by Cahoon that plated Souza, who reached on an infield error. Stratford tied the score at 1-1 in the third when Neko Passaro had an infield hit, stole second and came home when he didn’t stop running after Ryan Poling grounded out.
Stratford went ahead 2-1 when Quattrucci scored after Tyler Stirk grounded back to the pitcher and beat the throw home by the first baseman.
The pitching by the all-stars (Brett Fernandes, Jack Madar and Quattrucci) shut down Fall River’s offense from the second through the fifth innings.
“Every one of our pitchers did an excellent job,” Sakowicz said.
Going forward, Sakowicz has no doubt his team will bounce back. Could a rubber match in the World Series with Fall River be in the cards?
“We’re going to go there and try to win that,” Sakowicz said. “Maybe we’ll see them again and I’m sure it will be the same battle.”
NOTES: Jack Madar was named Stratford’s player of the game by going 2-for-4 at the plate with two doubles. He also pitched two scoreless innings and struck out four in a row at one point. … Catcher Jayden Ortiz threw out two runners at second base. … Shortstop Vinny Fuentes made a diving catch on a sinking line drive in the fourth inning. … Ortiz and left fielder Neko Passaro each had to come out of the game due to dehydration, with an ambulance being called to aid them, but Sakowicz said afterward they were both doing fine.