Though the Greenwich baseball team entered Friday’s matchup against visiting Danbury with two games left in its season, it is at the point of its season where one more loss would basically end it.
Zach Karson and Hunter Gruenstrass kept the Cardinals’ hopes going.
Gruenstrass delivered a clutch two-run first-inning single and Karson pitched four effective innings of relief to lead Greenwich to a 3-2 Senior Day win over Danbury in a late season FCIAC game.
With a record of 7-12, Greenwich must defeat Trinity Catholic in Stamford on Monday to qualify for the CIAC Class LL Tournament. Should they lose, Greenwich’s season would end — which was the case on Friday.
“We’re fighting for our lives, we needed to win this one and the next one,” GHS coach Mike Mora said.
Danbury, which is 12-6 overall and 10-5 in FCIAC play and has already clinched berths in both the FCIAC and state tournaments, took a 1-0 first-inning lead on senior pitcher Justin Solimine’s RBI single that scored leadoff hitter Javon Hernandez.
The Cardinals responded with two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Senior Stephen Bennett led off the inning with a walk and with one out senior Jackson Blanchard drew a walk. Both runners stole bases, setting the state for Gruenstrass. A catcher, Gruenstrass singled off Solimine, a right-hander, giving Greenwich a 2-1 lead.
“We knew he (Solimine) was coming in and throwing hard,” said Gruenstrass, a junior catcher, who received the game ball for his performance. “He has good stuff, so I choked up a little bit and I hit the ball through the middle of the infield for two RBIs. That’s what you need, momentum.”
Said Mora: “Solimine is one of the best pitchers in the state, let alone the league. You can see he got on a roll after the first inning. He was throwing first-pitch fastballs for strikes and first-pitch breaking balls for strikes. So Hunter getting that hit early was huge, as was our kids stealing two bases.”
The Hatters evened the score at 2-2 on a double by Hernandez and a single from second baseman Justin Hope. With the bases loaded and the score still tied, senior right-hander Alex Roath retired the final batter of the inning on a fly ball, keeping it a 2-2 game.
Karson, who earned the win, relieved Roath to start the fourth inning and pitched four scorless innings, allowing four hits in the process.
“I knew I just had to attack and pitch like it was my last inning,” Karson said. “We lose and we are done, so we are treating every game like it’s a playoff game. I love going in there in situations like that — I enjoy the pressure.”
Added Mora: “Roath did all he could and he did a nice job of getting out of that one jam. I knew it was time to bring Zach in to try and shut down the running game, since he is a lefty. He gave us everything he had.”
Greenwich took a 3-2 edge in the bottom of the fifth inning. Junior Ben Nash doubled and with one out, Bennett, a second baseman, hit a run, scoring single, putting the home team on top, 3-2.
Danbury nearly tied the score in the sixth inning, but sophomore left fielder Danny Perez threw a Hatters baserunner out at home on a base hit by senior Matt Sabene.
“I was just trying field the ball cleanly,” Perez said. “I saw the runner coming home and the third base coach waving him home, so tried to make a good throw and tried to keep it low.”
If Greenwich beats Trinity Catholic in Monday’s 4 p.m. game they will earn a berth into the Class LL tourney. The Cards have put themselves in a position to do so by winning four of their last five games.
“It’s a tribute to the captains and senior leadership we have on this team,” Mora said. “These guys have given it their all.”
GREENWICH 3, DANBURY 2
DANBURY 101 000 0 — 290
GREENWICH 200 010 — x 3 4 2
Records: Danbury 12-6, 10-5 FCIAC; Greenwich 7-12, 6-9 FCIAC. Batteries: D – Justine Solimine (L, 5-1) and Jake Matson. G — Alex Roath, Zach Karson (WP) and Hunter Gruenstrass.