Trumbull edges Staples to reach Class LL baseball semifinals
For nearly six full innings over a taut 90-minute display, Trumbull's Gerard Spiegel and Staples' Rob Vallone matched each other in a relentless display by two pitchers unyielding in the quest of keeping their team's season alive.
But the Eagles have been riding a postseason wave aided by unusual breaks, with batted balls hitting off of bags and errant hops fueling a run to the FCIAC championship game.
So given recent history, and a contest in need of a deciding factor, perhaps it was not surprising the outcome came down to a fluke play benefitting the Eagles.
A dropped ball on an attempted tag that would have been the final out of the sixth inning allowed No. 8 Trumbull to advance to the semifinals with a 2-1 win over the 17th-seeded Wreckers.
"Gerard seems to be getting better and better each time, and he did an unbelievable job today," Trumbull coach Phil Pacelli said. "We've been doing it on pitching and defense, and are able to scratch out two or three runs a game. That's all we've needed."
The Eagles (19-7), who will face No. 4 Southington in Tuesday's semifinals in Bristol, have scored just 10 runs in their last five postseason games -- but have won four of them by giving up just five runs.
Spiegel, who defeated Staples in last year's FCIAC Tournament and lost a 2-1 decision last weekend to Danbury in the conference final, pitched a complete-game three-hitter. After overcoming a shoulder injury that sidelined him for several weeks, he has won three of his last four decisions.
"In warmups I was really focusing on my offspeed, trying to start off with a changeup, and it worked out well," Spiegel said. "(Vallone) pitched a hell of a game. I can't give enough credit to him. And I knew it was going to come down to one run."
What no one could have predicted was that the run would soon have a place in the theater of the bizarre. Vallone (2-1), who also allowed just three hits in 5ï»¿2/3 innings, and was helped by an infield that produced a pair of inning-ending double plays, seemed to escape another jam in the sixth.
The Eagles had runners on the corners with two outs when Ryan Fritz hit a ball back to Vallone that carried him toward the first-base line. Vallone opted to tag Fritz, but in the process dropped the ball. Casey Mack came around to score to put Trumbull ahead, 2-1.
"A comebacker, my momentum was going towards the line and he was running up the line, he was very close to me and I tried to tag him," Vallone said. "He didn't try to swat it or anything. I hit him in the leg and it just kicked out. I thought it would be easier just to tag him."
Pacelli said the play was characteristic of Trumbull's current run.
"Staples is definitely a great team," he said. "Unfortunately a little funny play like that is going to be a big part of the decision in the game, but we'll take it."
The Wreckers (14-10) took down top-seeded Xavier to reach the quarterfinal round on May 30.
"My kids played great all three games," Staples coach Jack McFarland said. "Two good teams, two good pitchers, we came out and played sharp today. Unfortunately a little play at first base. That's baseball. I've seen a lot of things and that's a new one."
Staples took a 1-0 lead in the second on Nick Vega's fielder's choice after Bryan Porter had singled. Trumbull tied the game an inning later on singles by Luke Waldek and Brandon Liscinsky, followed by Willy Velez's fielder's choice.
"Westport and Trumbull have a little bit of a rivalry going so it definitely brings out the competitor in you," Spiegel said.
Vallone was overly critical of his strong outing.
"They hit a lot of balls hard and I couldn't locate very well. I just wasn't on," Vallone said. "I did what I could. The team played well, made a lot of plays behind me and that's what kept us in the game."
McFarland said he would judge the postseason by the big picture.
"I couldn't be prouder," he said. "Going 2-0 against the SCC. It's tough but we did a lot of damage in this tournament."
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