Greenwich junior Cannons halted in playoff run by Norwalk

Greenwich American Legion junior Cannon starting pitcher Hunter Frantz delivers the ball to the plate during Monday afternoon’s game against Norwalk.  — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich American Legion junior Cannon starting pitcher Hunter Frantz delivers the ball to the plate during Monday afternoon’s game against Norwalk. — Paul Silverfarb photo

[UPDATED: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.]: After working hard throughout the regular season just to get to the Southern Division Sectional Tournament and already pulling out a massive comeback in the opening game of the postseason against Wallingford, it would have been easy for the Greenwich junior legion team to just ride off into the sunset while trailing Norwalk by three runs in the seventh inning of the sectional championship game.

Giving up wasn’t in the team’s vocabulary this year and it certainly wasn’t there against Norwalk Monday at Norwalk City Hall Field. Instead of folding, Greenwich came back to tie the game 4-4 in their final at-bats. However, the magic ran out in the eighth, as Norwalk was able to plate the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth and beat Greenwich 5-4.

“All the credit in the world to Norwalk,” Greenwich head coach Sam Abdelwahab said. “They are the best team in the state. However, there is no doubt that we ran into three or four outs with bases loaded and didn’t score, or first and third and no one out and we didn’t score. We had guys picked off when we weren’t even stealing. We had four guys thrown off bases and there was only one steal sign. I think we just got a little too excited today.”

Basically pitching on one day of rest, Greenwich starting pitcher Hunter Frantz showed little fatigue. The Taft School pitcher threw seven innings and only had one bad inning, when he gave up four runs in the third.

“I think that in these three playoff games, we’ve had this mentality of never saying die. In that first game, we came out and I didn’t have my best outing and struggled a little bit,” Frantz said. “I come out of the game and my team really picked me up. We were down and ended up winning the game and carried that momentum into the next game, where we really took it to Orange. In this game, we came back in the last inning and it’s such a great team effort we give all the time.”

Greenwich, trailing 4-1 in the seventh, started the inning when Tom Liu led off with a walk. Up next was Mike Marzonie, who also drew a walk. Alex Loparco came up to the dish and reached base when he hit into a fielder’s choice to second base. Will Solomon did his part to load the bases on a walk.

With one out, Dillon Daine came up and smacked a clutch single to left field that scored Liu and Loparco and cut the deficit to 4-3. Sean Marks, who celebrated his birthday by hitting the cover off the ball, came up and hit a slow roller to third and hustled down the line for the infield single.

Once again the bases were loaded and once again a junior Cannon came up clutch. Keigo Fujikura connected on another infield single to third that ended up plating Solomon for the game-tying run.

“We are a bunch of fighters,” Greenwich first baseman Justin Gaccione said. “We came back against Wallingford and scored six runs. There was no doubt in my mind that we were coming back in this game. The difference was a few running mistakes. I thought we battled all the way to the end and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

In the home team’s dugout, Norwalk head coach Gerald Anastasia remained calm, despite Post 12 giving up the three runs that sent the game into extras.

“I told them that it was a new game and let’s forget about what happened,” Anastasia said. “Let’s come back, let’s play defense and get that first out in every inning and work for a run.”

After Greenwich went scoreless in the eighth inning, Norwalk won the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. With Ryan Evans on second after successfully stealing the base, Sawyer Machette stepped up and laced an RBI single down the first base line that easily plated Evans to win the game.

“We faced these guys three times and every time it was a battle,” Anastasia said. “Greenwich is a great team. I thought today this was the toughest game out of the four. They are a great ball club and I knew that if we played them it would be difficult. And it was. I thought we had it all set in the bottom of the seventh, but I left Thomas (Henderson) in the game a little longer. Luckily my boys came back.”

Greenwich took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning, but could have possibly scored a few more runs. Both Liu and Marzonie earned walks and both runners were thrown out during baserunning errors heading to second base.

With two outs in the third, Loparco got the rally started by drilling a single that landed in left. Solomon and Daine were up next and both drew walks to load the bases. Sean Marks stepped to the plate and took one for the team, getting hit by a pitch that forced home Loparco. However that one run was the only run they would get, as Greenwich flied out to left to end the inning.

Although the junior Cannons had the lead, it didn’t last long. Norwalk came back in the bottom of the third inning and tallied four runs. Chris Cotaline and Trey Newcomb hit rockets off Greenwich’s Frantz in the inning to help add to the Post 12 lead.

Although Frantz had that rough third inning, he was able to settle down and pitched a gem the rest of the way.

“That kid has pitched against us three times already this year and he’s given us headaches all the time,” Anastasia said. “We had that one big inning, but he settled right back down and he’s a class act.”

Frantz pitched Saturday against Wallingford in the sectional opener and didn’t pitch well, as Abdelwahab was forced to take him out of the game early. Basically on one-day rest, Frantz was back on the mound against Norwalk in the Sectional Finals.

“He threw seven innings and threw under 80 pitches,” Abdelwahab said. “I told him that it’s a totally a leader. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he found a way to hang with the best team in the state. This is the third time they’ve seen him and he was still able to do what he did against them. He’s had some tough losses this year, but he’s played for me for two years and has given me everything that he has every time he’s out there.”

“I was actually nervous when I woke up this morning, hoping my arm would be ready,” said Frantz, who also pitched in the sectional opener against Wallingford. “My bullpen didn’t go as planned because I was all over the place, but I was able to get on the mound and really focus. My coaches really settled me down after I was wild. I came out throwing strikes, but unfortunately had a rough third inning. I felt good and was able to settle back down.”

Although Frantz was solid through nearly the entire contest, Abdelwahab was still worried about his workhorse prior to the start of the game.

“I had my closer warming up in the first inning and I told him before the game even started that Hunter didn’t look that good in the bullpen and I wasn’t sure how much he was going to give me,” Abdelwahab said. “He just turned 17 and he’s a leader. He wants it.”

While Frantz was a presence for Greenwich on the mound, Marks did a bunch of damage with his bat.

Against Norwalk, Marks continued his hot postseason and had a birthday to remember by going 3-for-3, with a single, double and triple, was hit by a pitch and netted one run batted in.

“He’s played well all year against Norwalk,” Abdelwahab said. “He seems to raise his game against better teams. He stays back and drives the ball. He played really well for us and finished the season really strong. All the credit in the world to him because he had a lot of pressure. We expected him to get those big hits for us and he did it almost every time.”

Despite the season ending earlier than Abdelwahab had hoped, he said that he couldn’t be more proud of his junior Cannons.

“It’s unbelievable,” the head coach said. “We gave up some really discouraging runs, especially with two outs and errors. We were down 4-1 and that guy was dominating out there. We couldn’t hit him. Down 4-1 in the seventh and we had every reason to say that we had a good year and to pack it up, but all we did was walk, base hit, base hit and single. That’s a great team effort. I went out there and told them that I was having a lot of fun out there and it’s a shame it didn’t go our way, but these guys reinvigorated my love for the game. They gave me everything they had.”

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