MIDDLETOWN >> At last.
After losing the state American Legion baseball championship game in 2012 and 2015, the Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Portland — RCP — Legion team defeated Stamford 4-1 in the third and deciding game of the championship series to win its first-ever state crown Saturday afternoon in front of 400 fans, 332 of whom paid, at Palmer Field.
Stamford forced a third game by winning the opener 9-3 behind its ace, UConn-bound Randy Polonia. But RCP had an ace of its own — make that two aces — to use in the second game. Two aces are tough to beat.
“After losing the first game, I told the kids we had to win just one game,” said RCP coach T.J. Grande. “We win with pitching and defense and for game two, we had Tucker [Lord] and Cole [Ogorzalek].”
Lord (9-0), who was named the tourney’s outstanding pitcher, started and was magnificent. He went eight innings, allowing just the one run while striking out five and walking three. He was in two bases-loaded, no-out jams and pitched out of both with only the one run scoring the second time. He was backed by an errorless defense which turned two doubleplays.
Trailing 2-0 in the fourth, Stamford (29-6) got a single from Polonia and back-to-back walks from Kevin Stone (2-for-3) and Anthony Frangiose. But Lord struck out Chris Ruiz and got Pete Horn to bounce to Cory Baldwin at short who started a doubleplay.
In the sixth, still trailing 2-0, Luke Dawson singled, Polonia walked and Stone singled to load the bases. Stamford got a run on a sacrifice fly by Frangiose, but Lord got Ruiz to hit into a force at third and got Horn on a soft line drive to short.
“Their middle of their lineup is tough,” said Lord. “I got a little nervous, I think, tried to pitch around them and walked a couple. It was big in the fourth to strike out Ruiz then the doubleplay was huge.”
After the second big threat produced just one run, Lord retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth.
In the eighth, RCP (28-4) salted the game away.
After an out, reliever Grant Stone walked Ogorzalek, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. After Baldwin grounded out for the second out, Stamford coach Kevin Murray decided to walk Chris Bouchard intentionally.
That backfired as Kevin Larkin singled to left for a run and when the relay from left fielder Dawson rolled through the infield for an error, Bouchard kept on coming and scored all the way from first base.
At 4-1 in the ninth, it was Orgozalek time.
“Tucker’s a warrior and he gave us eight great innings,” said Grande. “He did what we expected he would do. Then in the ninth, it was a no-brainer to bring in Cole. As good as Cole is, it was much nicer to give him a three-run lead instead of a one-run lead.”
Ogorzalek retired the side 1-2-3 to earn his second save of the series and nail down the MVP award.
“While we haven’t hit a lot, we get timely hits,” said Grande. “When they walked Bouchard, we were happy. Larkin is the most underrated player on our team. Everyone has heard about Baldwin and Bouchard, but Larkin, who is new to our team this year, has been great from the start. We love to see him come up in big spots.”
Ogorzalek said he lobbied hard to start one of the Saturday games, even after pitching two grueling innings in the 6-5 win over Stamford Friday night.
“I love to pitch in big games,” he said. “It was a thrill to be on the mound at the end and not give people heart attacks like I did Friday.”
In Friday’s game, he staggered through the eighth and ninth, giving up five hits and two runs as RCP came perilously close to blowing a 6-0 lead. But Ogorzalek was on the mound at the end of that one, too, picking off pinch-runner Eddie Meizels from first base to end it.
RCP, which will play Colchester, VT, in its opening game of the Northeast Regional Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at Muzzy Field in Bristol, took a 1-0 first-inning lead in the deciding game. Kevin Radziewicz, who was named the All-Tournament catcher, walked, was bunted along by Ogorzalek, and scored on Bouchard’s two-out double.
The champs built the lead to 2-0 in the second. With two outs and nobody on, Leo Thomas, the All-Tournament selection at first base, walked. He moved up a base on a passed ball by Ruiz, went to third on a single by Nick Queiroz and scored on Radziewicz’ perfectly placed bunt single down the third base line.
Starter Bill DeVito then stopped RCP cold through the sixth inning and reliever Grant Stone threw a 1-2-3 seventh before the game-wrapping rally in the eighth.
In the opener, Stamford scored six runs in the first inning and RCP was never in the game. Starter Dave Sevigny was roughed up to the tune of six runs on four hits, a walk and two hit batters. Ruiz’ bases-loaded triple was the big hit of the rally
Polonia, who was named to the All-Tournament team as a pitcher, had three hits. Ogorzalek and Thomas each had two hits for RCP.
The winner of the regional will advance to the Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., Aug. 13.
“Our first goal was to win the state championship,” said Ogorzalek. “Now No. 1 is done.”