BRISTOL >> Cory Baldwin knocked in the go-ahead run with a clutch single, lefthander Logan Lessard scattered six hits, and outfielder Alex Ramirez threw out a runner at the plate and also made a sensational diving catch as RCP advanced to the American Legion state baseball finals with a 3-1 victory over Tolland on Wednesday night at Muzzy Field.
RCP (Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Portland) will meet Zone 3 champion Cheshire in game one of a best-of-three championship series on Friday (6:30 p.m.) at Cubeta Stadium in Stamford.
The series will continue on Saturday, Aug. 2 at 11:00 a.m., with a possible winner-take-all third game at 2:30 p.m.
This is RCP’s second trip to the finals in three years. They were runners-up to Milford in 2012.
Both RCP and Cheshire will be seeking their first state titles. Both teams have also qualified for the Northeast Regional tournament (Aug. 7-11) at Palmer Field in Middletown.
“We’re lucky, without a doubt, that they’re getting an extra Connecticut team in there,” said RCP coach Jay Hickey. “We’ve never been to the regionals. The closest we came was two years ago when Milford knocked us out. That was a great run for us. All you want to do is build this program and that’s what we’ve done. This is great to take that next step.”
Tolland, the Zone 8 champions who avoided elimination the night before with a 6-3 win over RCP, took a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
But it could have been more.
After Luke Broadhurst drew a one out walk and Dallon Asnes blooped a single to right field, Tim Ford moved the runners up with a ground out. Zach Rollins then lined a single to Ramirez in right that scored Broadhurst.
Asnes also tried to score on the play when Ramirez fielded the ball and double-clutched. But Ramirez threw a bullet to catcher Kevin Radziewicz and Asnes, who failed to slide, was tagged out.
“Unfortunately, Dallon didn’t realize the throw was coming in and that cost us,” said Tolland coach Steve Paasch. “My thought was that we were probably not going to score a lot of runs. Lessard is a phenomenal pitcher. Normally, there is no way I would send a runner like Dallon on that play. But any opportunity we had I was going to be aggressive and put the pressure on and if they throw us out, they throw us out.”
Lessard, who struck out eight and walked two, blanked Tolland over the next seven innings.
“Logan pitched a great game,” said Hickey. “We were hoping to get at least six innings out of him.”
Cole Ogorzalek relieved Lessard and pitched a perfect ninth inning.
RCP (22-5) tied it in the fourth against Tolland starter Tom Jacobsen. Ramirez (2-for-4) led off with a single, Josh Zawisa drew a walk, Christian Budzik laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position and Ogorzalek’s ground out to third scored Ramirez.
In the fifth, Tom Seaver laced a lead-off double to the fence in right field. Kevin Radziewicz moved Seaver to third with a grounder to second and after Chris Bouchard popped out, Baldwin lofted a single along the left field line, giving RCP a 2-1 lead.
Ramirez kept the inning going with a single. Zawisa then bounced a slow grounder to third and Jake Kalette’s throw got past first baseman Ben Clough as Baldwin raced home for a 3-1 lead.
“The big hit was Cory,” said Hickey. “He goes to left field very well. I put him at cleanup because he makes contact. We were able to breathe a little bit (with those runs).”
Jacobsen allowed just six hits over eight innings. He also walked three, struck out two and gave up two earned runs.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from our team, especially Jacobsen” added Paasch. “He was phenomenal. The best start he’s had by far all year long.”
Asnes and Rollins each had two hits, while Alex Hoss was robbed off a lead-off hit in the eighth when Ramirez made a spectacular diving catch in the right centerfield gap.
Budzik was also terrific anchoring RCP’s defensive effort at shortstop.
“I thought Christian absolutely played a brilliant shortstop here this whole tournament,” said Hickey. “One thing about these guys is they come out and play hard every day. They’re excited and they stay on the game. They’re very competitive and they just try as hard as they can. It’s fun to coach them.”