MIDDLETOWN >> It may not have been the way they drew it up, but the results always seem to be the same for the Amity Spartans in state championship contests.
Max Scheps’ walk with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning forced in Chris Winkel with the championship-winning run as top-seeded Amity defeated 10th-seeded Fairfield Warde 4-3 in the Class LL state championship game at Palmer Field in Middletown Saturday afternoon.
The victory was Amity’s fourth title in a row and sixth overall dating back to 2006.
Amity, the top-ranked team in the Register/GameTimeCT Top 10 poll from wire to wire, has won 20 consecutive state playoff games and finished the season with a record of 27-1.
“We were confident,” Amity coach Sal Coppola said of his team entering the seventh inning. “We have been battle-tested throughout the year.
“I am sort of numb to think about it (fourth straight title). We never really thought about it all year. We just wanted to win one for the guys that have not gotten one.”
Amity finished the season with a 15-game winning streak, but was forced to battle back after Fairfield Warde’s Giacomo Brancato ripped a long, three-run homer to left with two outs in the sixth to even the game at 3-3.
Amity left the bases loaded in the bottom sixth. But the Spartans were not going to be denied with the same situation in the seventh.
— GameTimeCT (@GameTimeCT) June 11, 2016
John Natoli, who relieved Warde starter Reece Maniscalco to begin the seventh, hit Amity’s Chris Winkel to open the inning.
Breaking on an attempt to steal second, Winkel raced all the way to third on a wild pitch by Natoli.
“Coach (Coppola) talks about us being aggressive,” Winkel said. “That is our mentality. We are not going to give up.”
The Mustangs intentionally walked Brian Ronai and Jack Nolan with one out to load the bases, attempting to set up a force at home. The plan looked as if it would work when Eli Oliphant grounded into a force for the second out, but Scheps walked on a 3-1 pitch to force in Ronai with the championship-winning run.
“I was ready to hit,” Scheps said of the final at bat. “I knew he was just as nervous as I was. I knew he had to come in with a strike. This is the scrappiness we have played with all year. We never put our heads down. We kept our heads up all game.”
The loss denied Fairfield Warde its first title since 1982.
— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) June 11, 2016
“It (runner on third) forced us to walk them to get the force out,” Warde coach Brett Conner said after his team finished the year 19-8. “We did a great job getting the second out. Unfortunately, that (walk) was the last play of the game.
“The kids fought hard. That’s all I can ask for. The kids gave Fairfield Warde something to get excited about, and they gave the town of Fairfield something to be excited about.”
The game started with ominous skies and a steady rain, and the Spartans took advantage with three runs in the first off Maniscalco.
Andy Hague and Pat Winkel sandwiched walks around a bunt single by Chris Winkel to load the bases with no outs. A wild pitch by Maniscalco scored Hague and Oliphant’s two-out, two-run double to the gap in right center put the Spartans on top 3-0.
“We knew the runs were going to be big for us,” said Oliphant, Amity’s winning pitcher who threw a complete game, seven-hitter. “We wanted to get out to an early lead. This is amzing. I have no words to describe it.”
With the rain getting heavier, the game was stopped and delayed for one hour and 47 minutes, before resuming. Both Oliphant and Maniscalco seemed to pitch stronger after the delay. “We made sure Eli warmed up the right way,” Coppola said of the delay. “He did everything he would do to start a game. He just repeated it.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) June 11, 2016
Neither team mounted much of a threat until the Mustangs evened the game in the sixth.
Warde’s Joe Deutsch made sure the Spartans did not rally as he made five highlight reel plays in a row in the third and fourth innings. “The kids singlehandedly kept them in the game,” Coppola said. “He made every play for them.”
Warde’s sixth inning rally started with a single by Natoli and continued one out later when Deutsch reached on an error in right. After Oliphant struck out Jack Myers for the second out, Brancato ripped a 3-1 pitch over the fence in left to even the game at three.
“That definitely hurt,” Coppola said. “We had to pitch to him in that situation. We were not going to load the bases. He ripped the ball.”
The Spartans rallied in the sixth, loading the bases with two outs when Colin Beaulieu singled to left and pinch-hitter Rohan Patel walked. Maniscalco eased out of the jam by getting Hague on a grounder to short.
Maniscalco went six innings for Fairfield Warde, allowing five hits and three earned runs, while walking four and striking out five.
“This is unbelievable,” Ronai said. “I love everybody on this team. It is just a great group of guys. We knew we had to work hard. That team was not going away.”
Oliphant walked one and struck out seven in the victory for Amity.
AMITY 4, FAIRFIELD WARDE 3
Fairfield Warde: 000 003 0 — 3 7 2
Amity: 300 000 1 — 4 5 1
(at Palmer Field)
W — Eli Oliphant; L — John Natoli
Batteries: FW — Reece Maniscalco, John Natoli (7) and Daniel DeBartolomeo; A — Eli Oliphant and Pat Winkel.
2B: FW — None; A — Eli Oliphant.
HR: FW — Giacomo Brancato; A — None.
RBI: FW — None; A — Oliphant (2), Scheps.
SB: FW — None; A — Christian Cooper, Chris Winkel.
Team records: Fairfield Warde 19-8; Amity 27-1.