NEWTOWN—The Stratford Baseball Association Cal Ripken 8-year-old All-Stars hadn’t faced a lot of adversity this summer.
Once they did, though, the team responded the right way.
Stratford came out of the loser’s bracket to win a pair of games on Sunday to stake their claim as the 2019 eight-year-old Ripken State Champs, sweeping undefeated New Canaan in a pair of games.
Stratford—which lost to New Canaan on Thursday in the winner’s bracket final—posted a 9-3 win in Game 1 on Sunday before winning with the title with a 10-2 win.
“I tell you this team is just incredible,” Stratford manager Carl Sakowicz. “I’ve never seen kids work like this team works. We have a two-hour practice and we say, ‘It’s time to go home,’ and they want to run the bases or hit more. We’ll be there for three hours. They just love this game and it’s amazing to see them from the beginning to now.”
On Thursday, Stratford let a handful of chances slip away as New Canaan advanced to the championship game with a win.
“We were not hitting the ball in that game,” said Sakowicz, adding his team left the bases loaded twice and had runners on first and second with nobody out in the final inning. “Personally, I think we needed that loss. I think we were getting a little bit, maybe not cocky, but comfortable. You keep winning, winning, winning, you get comfortable. Saturday, we came right back like we had never lost.”
The locals had to top Newtown on Saturday, which they did by a 5-3 tally to advance to the championship series on Sunday.
In the first game of the championship series, New Canaan jumped on top again by a 2-1 score before Stratford put up a crooked number in the third.
Papo Quattrucci an RBI single to put Stratford ahead while Tyler Stirk had a two-run single to push the lead to 5-2.
Jack Madar struck out the side in the bottom of the third before Stratford added two more runs in fourth. An RBI double by TJ Marshall capped that rally.
New Canaan added an unearned run, but Stratford put the game away when Brett Fernandes and Charlie Sakowicz notched RBI single to push the lead to 9-3.
That win forced a winner-take-all second game.
“They got on top again, but it didn’t us,” Sakowicz said. “We came out, we hit and played great baseball.”
In the winner-take-all final, New Canaan once again jumped on top taking a 1-0 lead.
Stratford grabbed all the momentum in the third by putting up five runs.
Marshall had an RBI triple, Jayden Ortiz had an RBI single and two out singles from Madar, Quattrucci and Fernandes made it a 5-1 game.
New Canaan got one back to make it 5-2, but Stratford added five more runs in the fifth to clinch the win.
Ryan Poling (2-for-3) and Fernandes both had RBI singles while Quattrucci came up with a huge bases-loaded, three-RBI triple.
“We knew we had to put them away because they’re a good team,” Sakowicz said.
Fernandes, Madar and Quattrucci pitched two innings each in the six-inning game and didn’t walk a single batter to spark the team’s defensive effort.
The trio threw 80 pitches, throwing 56 strikes.
Fernandes (2.50 ERA over 12 innings pitched) started all six games in the tournament and also led the team hitting, batting .800 (12-for-15) with an on-base percentage of .813.
Stirk batted batting .625 with an .800 on-base percentage while Quattrucci led the team with 12 RBIs while hitting .563 and he scored eight runs. On the mound, he had a 2.67 ERA with 14 strikeouts in nine innings. He had two saves.
Madar hit .417 while tying with Quattrucci for most runs scored in the tournament with eight. He was 5-0 on the mound with a 2.50 ERA and a team-high 17 strikeouts against just four walks.
Poling also hit .389 while Vinny Fuentes shined at shortstop with some defensive gems over the course of all six games.
Tate Carmona, Brendan Lesczczynski, and Neko Passaro also contributed to the state championship for Stratford.
“I guess our hitting makes us good and running all those laps, but we like to win and have fun with our friends, so it’s both basically,” Fuentes said of the secret behind his team’s success.”
With the state title, Stratford earned a spot in the New England Regional championship tournament, which is being held in Milford later this week.
The team will play three round-robin games on Saturday (vs. Fall River, Mass., at 1 p.m.), Sunday (vs. North Middlesex, Mass., at 3:15 p.m.) and Monday (vs. Westport, Mass., at 4 p.m.).
For Stratford Baseball Association President Pete Adzima, the team has represented his league and the town well.
“I honestly think this shows what our coaching is all about and it separates us because we honestly have good coaches and a great bunch of kids,” Adzima said. “We get the most out of our kids and we enjoy it. If these kids stay together, and don’t spread out to travel teams, and truly stay together to represent their town, they can bring a lot of championships to Stratford.”
The next game is what matters the most to Sakowicz, though.
That’s the attitude the team has taken through a 5-0 Burdick Tournament, a 5-0 Friendship Tournament and the Ripken State Tournament, in which the team went 7-1.
“We just take it game-by-game,” he said. “We don’t look at winning the whole thing. We want to win that first game. That’s the important one.”