Greenwich Baseball Wins Thriller in CIAC Class LL Opener
By Paul Silverfarb
There weren’t a lot of nails left on the fingers of the Greenwich High School baseball team’s coaching staff. After finding themselves in a 3-0 hole midway through Monday afternoon’s CIAC class LL opening round contest against No. 11 seed New Milford High School, the No. 22 seeded Cardinals found a way to take a one-run lead, only to give up the lead an inning later.
And to make this even more intense, Big Red took another one-run lead in the top of the seventh. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh and only one out, senior Charlie Zeeve came out of the bullpen to try and save Greenwich’s season.
And that’s exactly what he did…with a little help from Greenwich’s standout defense behind him.
“It was a tight game the whole way through,” Zeeve said. “We battled back from being down 3-0 because we were very flat and that was easy for anybody to see. But there’s something about this team because we keep on grinding and the bats came through with that big inning. At the end of the game, anything can happen in playoff baseball and we proved that.”
With a quick pop fly to right field and a perfectly thrown relay back to the GHS catcher, Greenwich was able to get out of the inning and left New Milford with the thrilling 5-4 victory to advance to the second round of the CIAC class LL playoffs.
“We don’t quit,” said Greenwich High School head coach Mike Mora. “That’s a credit to them. They like each other and work hard. They care about each other and pick each other up. So it’s hard not to be proud of this team.”
“We have been fighting all year,” said sophomore shortstop Chris Genaro. “We knew we had this kind of game in us. We battled in the FCIAC tournament and got edged by a very good team in Staples, but we knew we could do this today.”
With Zeeve on the mound and the bases loaded, the senior got the Green Wave’s Chris Gesualdi to calmly fly out to GHS right fielder and fellow senior Hayden Kistler for the second out.
It appeared that the fly ball was deep enough for New Milford’s Jon Luc Dumas to tag up at third and tie the game at 5-5. However Kistler and Big Red had other plans. Kistler fired a rocket to Henry Saleeby, the cutoff man who was between second and first base. Saleeby, a senior, made a perfect catch and in turn made the perfect throw to GHS catcher Cristian Perez, who tagged Dumas in plenty of time for the final out of the back-and-forth contest.
“It actually is the way that we practiced it,” said Mora. “We work on the fundamentals. Hayden has been working his tail off and Henry was in the right spot. Christian made the right call and we got him. It was a great play and ended a great high school baseball game.”
And the pressure was certainly on for Zeeve. Warming up in the bullpen, Zeeve saw his team load the bases. But that didn’t bother the senior reliever.
“I was nervous taking my warm-ups,” Zeeve said. “I wasn’t throwing many strikes during the warm-ups, but towards the end I gained more confidence and went back to the basics. I let my fastball tail in on him and kept it on the inside corner. Once I saw the throw by Hayden, I already knew it was in the bag. It was such a shallow fly ball, but it’s a risk they took and it didn’t pay off for them in the end.”
After a slow start put Greenwich in a deficit early, they were able to battle back to a 4-4 tie with one inning to play. The Cardinals took the lead and wouldn’t give it up again in the top of the seventh.
With one out, junior Stephen Bennett reached base on an error by the NMHS second baseman and junior Henry Jonakuchi followed that up with a single. During Kyle Woodring’s at bat, the double steal was successfully put into place, which put both Bennett and Jonakuchi in scoring position. Woodring, a senior, loaded the bases by drawing a walk.
Bennett crossed the plate and gave GHS the 5-4 advantage when the New Milford pitcher uncorked a wild pitch.
“You get that first hit and then the other hits just kept on coming,” Zeeve said. “We really believe that we can win the game and despite being so flat early, we were able to really come alive with the bat.”
For reasons unknown to Mora, the Cardinals got off the bus and weren’t as sharp as usual. That helped lead the Green Wave to a 1-0 lead after one inning and the scored twice more in the fourth inning.
“I thought we were uncharacteristically sloppy early and they were able to take advantage of our sloppiness,” Mora said. “It was almost like a prevent defense. We bent, but we didn’t break. We got some big hits after we woke up we just stuck with it. This team doesn’t quit and I like that about these guys.”
Trailing 3-0, Big Red woke up in a big way at the plate during the fifth inning.
“We were definitely flat coming off the bus,” Genaro said. “It was a long bus ride. Our coach came in and started talking us up. Our bats came alive, made the plays in the field and the pitchers threw strikes.”
Senior Matt Circelli started the rally with a single. With two outs, Kistler stepped up to the plate and launched a triple that rolled to the outfield wall and scored Circelli. On that play, the outfielder fired the ball to third base in an attempt to nail Kistler at the base. However the ball sailed wide of the third baseman and Circelli was awarded an extra base on the error, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
Bennett kept the good times rolling with a line drive single to center and was able to tie the game when Jonokuchi blasted an RBI double in the gap. The fourth run of the inning happened courtesy of Woodring, who laced a single that plated Jonokuchi.
“Matt had a huge hit and then Hayden gapped one for that triple,” Mora said. “Then Bennett singled and Jonokuchi gapped one. It was timely hitting. We didn’t hit a ton today, but we hit when it counted.”
With the win, Greenwich advanced to today’s second round game against No. 6 seeded Newtown High School.
“We have to throw strikes and make plays,” Mora said. “We’re going to be using some guys that haven’t pitched in tight situations. I think we can swing the bats. The important thing was to get this game out of the way and here’s hoping we can get on a little roll.”