FAIRFIELD — A lapse in fundamentals led to a lot of frustration for Ludlowe baseball coach Mike Francese.
Twice, the Falcons had golden opportunities to move runners into scoring position with less than two outs and both times, failed, taking themselves out of potential big innings. Those missed chances came back to haunt Francese and Ludlowe as Norwalk did exactly the opposite — taking advantage of its two scoring opportunities — to knock off the Falcons 4-3 Monday afternoon at Kiwanis Field.
“It’s always comes down to executing those fundamental plays, either offensively or defensively, unfortunately, today, we didn’t get it done,” Francese said. “They were aggressive, hats off to them, that got them the run they needed and then, we left runners on in some situations obviously where we could have taken the lead and we fought hard but unfortunately we came up a run short.”
Before the game, Ludlowe (9-9) was sitting in the eighth and final FCIAC playoff spot at 7-7, holding tiebreakers over both Warde and New Canaan, who are right behind in the standings. Despite the loss Monday, a win on Wednesday in the regular season finale against Wilton should give the Falcons an FCIAC playoff spot.
“Who knows? We really hurt ourselves today,” Francese said. “We had the opportunity today to win and have control over an FCIAC spot, but we gave that away today.”
Norwalk (8-11, 7-8 FCIAC) would need a ton of dominos to fall to get into the FCIAC playoffs and is preparing for the state tournament.
“I don’t think so,” Tucci joked about making the FCIACs, unless three teams get declared ineligible. “We’ve got the states coming up, we’re preparing for that.”
Ludlowe grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first when Derek Tallman led off the game with a single, moved to second on a balk and scored on an RBI single from Ron Farruggio. Norwalk answered by scoring three times in the second — thanks to two Ludlowe errors and an RBI single from Michael Boyian, to take a 3-1 lead.
That forced Francese’s hand and he brought in Chris Benton in relief of starter Liam Rosengren, who gave Ludlowe 4 2/3 innings of three hit, one-run relief, striking out six.
“Chris has been great out of the bullpen for us this year,” Francese said. “He’s one of those guys that I can go to at any moment and he’s ready. When other guys weren’t stepping up, he was stepping up and I’ve been using him longer and longer. I like the fact that he gives us opportunities to stay in games.”
But as good as Ludlowe’s bullpen was, Norwalk’s relief man, Gavin Kempa, was better. He pitched four innings, allowing six hits and two runs, getting the big out every time he needed it.
“Every time we needed a big out, he got it,” Tucci said of Kempa. “He’s a tough kid. He hasn’t started any games, but he’s come in some huge sports for us. I have a lot of confidence in him when I bring him in. Usually, his breaking ball is his best pitch, but today, his fastball was his best pitch.”
“I just mainly wanted to try and throw strikes,” Kempa said. “My curveball wasn’t working as well as it normally does, so I had to focus on hitting the zones with the fastball and letting my team play defense behind me.”
Ludlowe scored twice in the fifth to tie the game at 3-3, but in the top of the seventh, Norwalk pulled off a double steal and Boyion scored on a throwing error to put the Bears on top 4-3. In the bottom of the inning, a leadoff double and a single had Ludlowe runners at first and third with one out, but Kempa got a pop out and a ground out to end the game.
“It was a really good high school game,” Tucci said. “Two teams that are pretty evenly matched. I thought their second pitcher did a hell of a job and I thought our second pitcher did a hell of a job, so it was a good game, we just got the breaks when we needed them, that was the only difference, we’ll take it, a win is a win.”
“It was just keeping my composure and not letting either hits or errors get in your way of getting the ball to the plate and doing your best.” — Norwalk pitcher Gavin Kempa on his relief effort
“This is a tough one to swallow right there. We have to come back, we have one more regular season game left and try to get that win to move up in the state standings and maybe get into the (FCIAC) playoffs.” — Ludlowe coach Mike Francese
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Norwalk pitcher Gavin Kempa. The senior pitched four innings in relief, allowing six hits and just two runs to pick up the win.
NORWALK 4, LUDLOWE 3
NORWALK 030 000 1 — 4 7 1
LUDLOWE 100 020 0 — 3 9 3
Records: Ludlowe (9-10, 7-8 FCIAC); Norwalk (8-11, 7-8 FCIAC)
Batteries: N — Scott Whelan, Gavin Kempa (4, W) and Marco Monterio; L — Liam Rosengren, Chris Benson (3, L) and Jack Knisley. Highlights: N — Clayton Bray had a double and scored a run, Michael Boyion had two hits, scored a run and had an RBI. L — Derek Tallman went 3 for 4 with a run scored, Rob Farruggio had two hits and an RBI.