MIDDLETOWN >> Connecticut’s defending American Legion baseball state champions are still the state’s best.
The Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Portland team — RCP for short — certified that with a 2-0 win over Stamford in the third and deciding game of the best-of-three championship series in front of over 400 spectators, 339 of whom paid, at Palmer Field Sunday afternoon.
Stamford managed to get only one runner to third base during winner Tucker Lord’s dominating performance. He allowed four hits and struck out 11 and was named to the All-Tournament team. Cole Ogorzalek, who was named the tournament’s Outstanding Pitcher, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save to go with his two tourney wins.
“I felt confident with all my pitches,” said Lord. “Everything was moving so I felt very comfortable. I wanted to finish, but I also wanted Cole to finish, so it’s all good.”
The Lord/Orgorzalek tandem is money in the bank for coach T.J. Grande.
“I have two stud pitchers,” he said. “Tucker and Cole make my life so easy. I think this was the best game Tucker has pitched this year. Going into the game I felt that if Tucker was on his game — as he was — no one was going to hit him.
“As for taking him out after eight, well, Cole was in my ear all game to let him close.”
RCP, as usual, didn’t hit much. The champs got a run in the first and for a long time, that looked to be all it would get off Stamford starter and losing pitcher Grant Stone.
Cory Baldwin — the tournament’s Most Valuable Player — opened the game with a walk. He led every game of the championship series by getting on base and scoring a first-inning run.
Orgozalek then reached on a swinging bunt for a hit and Austin White beat out a bunt to load the bases with no one out. But a big inning didn’t happen as Trevor Whalen hit into a double play — with Baldwin scoring — and Kevin Larkin flied to left for the third out.
The score stayed 1-0 until the sixth when with one gone, Larkin singled, was balked to second, went to third on a single by Roland Thivierge, and scored when Leo Thomas’ ground ball was just a force out at second as the return throw to first was wide, pulling the first baseman off the bag.
RCP had eight hits, four walks and a hit batter, but left 10 runners on base.
“We’re not the biggest hitters,” said Lord. “But our defense is great, so we got enough.”
There wasn’t an error in the game and the RCP defense got great shortstop play from Baldwin, who had six assists and a putout. He had 24 chances in the three-game series without an error. The last play of the game was a ground ball to Baldwin, which was automatic.
Grande has come to accept that his club doesn’t light up the scoreboard.
“That first inning we had a chance to break the game open, but for me it’s bittersweet,” he said. “We’ve had games in which we’ve loaded the bases with no outs and gotten nothing, so I took the one run and was happy with it.”
In the six tourney games at South Windsor and Middletown, RCP scored just 21 runs — three and a half a game — and won five of them.
“Winning close games speaks to the experience we have,” said Baldwin. “On the big stage, we don’t get nervous.”
After RCP put the first inning run up, Stamford got a leadoff single from Shawn Urbano, an All-Tournament selection at first base. But Ogorzalek, who caught Lord, threw him out attempting to steal. The Zone 4 champions got a runner to second in the fourth when Johnny Spoto was hit by a pitch and was sacrificed to second.
But as happened so many times in the tournament, the bunt did nothing but give the other team an out as Anthony Frangiose, an All-Tournament outfielder, and Pete Horn, the tourney batting champion (.381) and an All-Tourney Multi-Purpose Player choice, struck out.
The closest Stamford came to scoring was in the eighth. Michael Tuffano opened the inning with a single to right, stole second and moved to third on a ground ball with one out.
Lord got out of the jam by striking out Spoto and getting Telly Collarossi to bounce to Noah Budzik at second.
Ogorzalek threw three ground balls in the ninth to nail the title down.
“Me, Tucker, Leo [Thomas] and Cory have played together for three years,” said Ogorzalek. “We know each other. I know what Tucker wants to throw, Leo knows when we want to throw to first and we all trust Cory to make the plays at short. It’s not so much a chemistry we have, but the trust we have in each other that makes us successful.”
For Stamford it was a second year of frustration at the hands of RCP.
“We’re happy with our season,” said Stamford coach Kevin Murray. “We’ll try again next year. I woke up today ready to go, but it’s RCP’s time. We gave it our best effort, but that’s baseball. We try to be the best program and I think from top to bottom, we are one of the state’s best.
“RCP is on a great run right now, we just hope to be there and maybe get lucky one of these years.”
RCP advances to the Northeast Regional which opens Wednesday at Bristol’s Muzzy Field. It will play the third game of the day against Pittsfield, the Massachusetts runner-up at 4:30 p.m.