NEW MILFORD — Greenwich relief pitcher Charlie Zeeve strode from the bullpen to the mound with the weight of an entire season weighing on his shoulders.
Bases loaded, bottom of the seventh inning, one out, his Cardinals clinging to a one-run lead in the first round of the Class LL state tournament.
Two pitches and one sensational defensive play later, Zeeve and the 22nd-seeded Cardinals had punched their ticket to the second round with a 5-4 victory over No. 11 New Milford.
With the second pitch he threw, Zeeve got New Milford’s Chris Gesualdi to fly out to right field. It looked as ifGesualdi’s fly ball would be deep enough for Jon Luc Dumas to score from third base and tie the game, but the Cardinals had other ideas. Right fielder Hayden Kistler caught the ball and fired it to the cutoff man, first baseman Henry Saleeby. Saleeby wheeled and threw a strike to catcher Cristian Perez, who applied the tag to end the game.
“Obviously, I was nervous in that scenario, but I knew I had to come in and throw strikes,” Zeeve said. “My warm-up was horrible. I wasn’t hitting any of my spots, so I came in and tried to throw it right down the middle and let the ball tail inside. It ended up working out.”
The Cardinals were going into their next game with a fresh jolt of confidence.
“There’s something about this team. We just don’t quit,” Zeeve said. “Anything can happen in playoff baseball. We’re confident.”
For New Milford, meanwhile, it was a tough way to end what was an otherwise triumphant season. The Wave lost its only two playoff games, in the first round of the SWC and in the first round of the states.
“I’m proud of my guys,” New Milford coach Ryan Johnson said. “I’m proud of our seniors leading us like they did the whole year. It’s just tough that it’s the last game for these guys. They gave me so much, and it hurts me about as much as it hurts them.”
BACK AND FORTH BATTLE
Greenwich took the lead for good in the top of the seventh when Stephen Bennett reached on an error and later scored on a wild pitch to break a 4-4 tie. Winning pitcher Alexander Roath came on in relief of starter Ian Colalucci in the fourth inning and brought the Cards within two outs of the win before giving way to Zeeve.
“It was a great team win. A lot of guys contributed, and I was happy for their efforts,” Greenwich coach Mike Mora said.
New Milford (14-8) struck first with a run in the first, as Colin Lindner led off with a single and scored when Austin Swanson followed with a double. The Green Wave tacked on two more in the fourth, as Dumas and Zachary Prahach led off with back-to-back singles and scored on a grounder by Gesualdi and an infield single by Swanson.
Greenwich (12-10) scored four runs with two outs in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead. Matthew Circelli set the table with a one-out single. With two outs, Kistler launched a run-scoring triple to right-center and scored on an error. Stephen Bennett then singled and scored from first on Henry Jonokuchi’s double. Jonucuchi scored on a single by Kyle Woodring.
Prahach tied it for New Milford in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI single.
BY THE NUMBERS
Woodring singled twice and drew a walk, while Jonokuchi and Circelli each had two hits for Greenwich.
Swanson had a double and three singles — including two infield singles — for New Milford. Prahach added four singles, while Dumas singled twice and drew a walk and Lindner singled and walked.
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NEW MILFORD 4
GREENWICH000 040 1 — 5 10 2
NEW MILFORD100 210 0 — 4 11 3
Records: Greenwich 12-10; New Milford 14-8. Batteries: G—Ian Colalucci, Alexander Roath (4, W), Charlie Zeeve (7, S) and Cristian Perez; NM—Kyle Fabich, Connor Gannon (5), Ian Cooke (7) and Derek Profita.