— Scott Ericson (@EricsonSports) July 31, 2019
MERIDEN — Since bowing out early in last year’s state tournament, Stamford has been focused on getting back to the championship series.
Stamford took an early lead and held on in the last two innings, beating Naugatuck 4-3 in the Southern Super Regional to secure a spot back in the finals.
They will face the winner the Northern Super Regional between Southington and Waterford in the best-of-three series beginning Friday night at Ceppa Field in Meriden.
It is Stamford’s fourth trip to the championship series in the last five seasons. They won it in 2017 after being runner-up in both 2015 and 16.
“(Starting pitcher Grant Purpura) was great tonight. He just pounded the zone and he keeps us in every game,” Stamford coach Kevin Murray said. “This game is about inches and we won by an inch tonight.”
Purpura pitched into the sixth inning, striking out four and allowing just two hits before being lifted at 80 pitches to keep him eligible for the championship series.
Stamford wasted no time getting the bats going with two runs in the bottom of the first.
After a leadoff walk to Noah Skaug, Joey Skarad ripped a triple into the left-centerfield gap, driving in the first run. Skarad then came in to score on a single to left by Reid Gesualdi.
Stamford would get some much-needed insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth courtesy of a two-run double by Skarad, scoring Skaug and Jaden Dawkins.
— Scott Ericson (@EricsonSports) July 30, 2019
Those runs would prove valuable as Naugatuck rallied in the sixth, scoring three times, aided by two Stamford errors.
Austin Verab reached on fielder’s choice, moving to second on a throwing error by the second baseman.
Nick Delucia reached on an infield single and Mark Nofri loaded the bases with a single to center.
The first Naugatuck run came in on a groundout by Michael Natkiel, scoring pinch runner Tristan Bosco.
Naugatuck cut the lead to 4-3 on a dropped flyball by the Stamford right fielder with two outs, scoring Delucia and Nofri.
Naugatuck got a runner on in the seventh, but could not move him past first base.
Naugatuck finished the regular season with a 13-11 record before catching fire in the tournament, getting within one game of the state finals.
“These kids showed up every game and played hard. That’s what competitors do, they show up an play hard,” Naugatuck coach Mark Nofri said. “We are tough, hard-nosed kids and I will take those kids any day of the week to win games.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Joey Skarad, Stamford. Skarad had a triple and a double, scoring a run and driving in three.
“That double was huge. That obviously decided the game,” Skarad said. “Getting those runs in to help this team was the biggest thing for me. Those insurance runs were big, but getting out of the sixth with just minor damage was great for me.”
In the top of the sixth with two outs, Naugatuck pitcher Nate Deptula got caught in a rundown between second and third and was aggressively tagged out by Stamford shortstop TJ Wainwright. Deptula took exception to the hard tag and had some words for Wainwright. Without warning, the home plate umpire threw both Wainwright and Deptula out of the game. By Legion rules, a player ejected from a game is suspended for the following two games, meaning Stamford will be without its shortstop for the first two games of the championship.
STAMFORD 4 NAUGATUCK 3
NAUGATUCK 000 003 0—3 4 0
STAMFORD 200 020 x—4 6 3
Batteries: N—Nate Deptula (L), Zach Bedryczuk (6) and Michael Natkiel S—Grant Purpura (W), Chris Candito (6) and Joey Skarad