BETHEL >> New Milford baseball coach Ryan Johnson knows how it feels to win a South-West Conference baseball championship, because won one as a player with New Fairfield in 1998.
That was the last time the Rebels raised the SWC trophy.
Ironically, on Wednesday at William J. Hunt Field, New Fairfield ended its 18-year drought with a 10-4 victory at the expense Johnson’s New Milford club to claim the conference tournament championship as the eighth and lowest seed.
“It’s very exciting,” New Fairfield coach Joe Garbowski said of his team’s feat. “I tip my cap to our 11 seniors. They believed in this team. They believed in this program since they’ve been here as freshman. They’ve worked hard and they deserve it.”
Tournament MVP Patrick Martucci caught the final out in right field, setting off the same kind of celebration Johnson, his twin brother and assistant coach Aaron and even Garbowski’s brother Michael engaged in back in 1998.
New Fairfield had stunned top-seeded Newtown, 7-5, in the quarterfinals and then No. 4 Pomperaug to reach the title game.
On Wednesday night, the Rebels used a seven-run third inning and a solid pitching performance from Jacob Whiting to defeat third-seeded New Milford for the SWC title, it’s third in 40 years.
“It feels great,” Martucci said. “All along we knew we’d be able to [win the tournament]. We have a great group of guys here, we all had faith in each other and as long as we believed we could do it, we knew anything was possible.”
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The Rebels tagged Green Wave starter Cooper Knight for eight runs on seven hits in two and two-third innings. They sent 12 batters to the plate in the third when they broke a 1-1 tie by making it 8-1 in a blink of an eye.
“We have an approach at the plate,” Garbowski said. “Not necessarily small-ball, where we try to put the ball in play. We have the capability to put the ball on the ground in high school baseball and beating out a hit.”
New Fairfield had a few bounces go their way and one big bounce off the bat of Sean King that went bounding over the head of Brendon Profita at third base which plated two runs making it 6-1.
And that was all with no outs.
“It’s one of those things in baseball, hitting’s contagious,” Johnson said. “One thing goes one way and then it kind of snow-balls. They were squaring up pitches. They were hitting the ball in the gap. They were getting guys on base and they capitalized on things that we weren’t.”
But New Milford wouldn’t let up. After all, the first time these two team played each other this season, New Milford trailed New Fairfield 13-4 in the sixth inning and ended up winning 14-13.
The Rebels knew the Green Wave could rally.
“There was not one second [of letting up],” Garbowski said. “And our kids knew that. That they were not going to let up and say they rolled over and died, because those two coaches will not allow them to roll over and die and you could see it in the way they were swinging in the last inning. They can swing it, that team.”
After two fly outs, New Fairfield’s Rudy Sarro drove in two more with a single chasing Knight from the game. The deficit proved too much for New Milford.
“That has happened for us a lot this year,” Martucci said. “When we score, we seem to score in bunches. Once it started we just wanted to keep it rolling.”
New Milford scored twice in the fourth and once in the fifth, but couldn’t muster anything resembling a rally against New Fairfield starter Jacob Whiting.
The senior pitcher went all seven innings and allowed four runs on 10 hits, one walk and one hit batter and one strikeout.
“He pitches to contact,” Garbowski said of Whiting. “You have to allow kids to believe in it. Take something off, let them hit the ball, make your defense work. And that’s how Jake pitches, he pitches to contact.”
The Rebels tacked on two more runs in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Sarro and an RBI single by Martucci.
Every spot in the New Fairfield lineup scored at least one run with Jackson Lathrop scoring two.
As for New Milford and the Johnson brothers, it was bittersweet seeing their team lose and their alma mater win. But the New Fairfield-New Milford rivalry is all well and good in baseball, Garbowski said.
“It was very exciting,” Garbowski said. “There’s no love-hate there, it’s all love. It’s all love between the three of us. We’ve been to many gatherings together and we’ll continue that relationship. Obviously when you’re on the field you want your kids to battle amongst each other, but at the end of the day we shake hands.”
New Fairfield 10, New Milford 4
New Fairfield: 017 020 0 — 10 10 1
New Milford: 100 210 0 — 4 10 2
(at Bethel High School)
Batteries: NF — Jacob Whiting (W) and Rudy Sarro; NM — Cooper Knight (L), Christopher Usaty (3), Tyler Hansen (5), Matthew Ryan (6) and Derek Profita.