Warde's magical season comes to an end

Hunter Hewitt pitched the Mustangs to the FCIAC championship with a lights out performance against Trumbull High. (Photo by David G. Whitham)

Hunter Hewitt pitched the Mustangs to the FCIAC championship with a lights out performance against Trumbull High.
(Photo by David G. Whitham)

The Fairfield Warde baseball team had a magnificent journey in the postseason come to and end on Tuesday, June 10, in the semifinals of the Class LL state tournament at Muzzy Field in Bristol at the hands of Southington by a slim 6-5 margin.
The No. 3 seed 19-3 Blue Knights had to hold their breath as the No. 15 seed 18-9 Mustangs had the tying run just 90 feet away when the final out was recorded.
It was only fitting that it would end in this manner, as coach Mark Caron’s team has been walking a tight rope — winning eight straight games including its first-ever FCIAC championship over the past two weeks.
The journey took hold about three weeks ago when Warde was annihilated by Trumbull in a 17-3 rout in the midst of a three-game skid. No one would have blamed the Mustangs if they just played out the string and packed up the bat bag for the season.
But the nine returning seniors had an agenda looking to put last year’s 7-13 campaign behind them and end their high-school careers in grand fashion.
All-FCIAC senior outfielder Mike Foley, along with senior outfielder Tom Luckner sparked the offense, with FCIAC tournament MVP senior pitcher Hunter Hewitt and sophomore Reece Maniscalco leading the way on the hill.
Seniors, catcher Anthony Miller, first baseman Brendan Miner and designated hitter C.J. Sabella, along with Alex Goven, Bill Money and Chris Wilson guided the team through uncharted waters earning wins over South Windsor, Staples of Westport and Trumbull to reach the final four of the Class LL state tournament.
“I knew at the start of the season that we would have a much more quality team than we had last year,” Caron said. “But to think this group would be FCIAC champions would have been a stretch. It speaks to the character of this team and how much they wanted it.
“I’m so proud of what this team and these seniors accomplished this season. I’m looking forward to where this program is going to go because of the dedication and commitment of this senior class.”
Warde may have come into the semifinal game as the clear cut underdog facing a Southington team with a history of success in state tournament play, but you couldn’t tell that by the way the Mustangs hit the ground running.
Lead-off hitter Luckner drew a base on balls and promptly stole second base to get into scoring position. In fact, Luckner managed to lead off an inning four times reaching base three times. He scored three runs and stole two bases.
Here, All-FCIAC junior second baseman Nick Nardone bounced one up the third-base side and on the throw across the diamond Luckner high tailed it to third base. A passed ball put the first run on the board and the Mustangs were on top.
Hewitt took the mound and issued a one-out walk. A groundout to second moved the runner up creating a situation where an intentional walk set up a force play with two outs.
The Mustang pitcher was almost out of the woods until Ryan DeAngelo reached out and blooped a single over the head of shortstop Dakota DeJordy to tie the game at 1-1.
This game began to take on signs of a real seat grabber when Southington pitcher Joe Rivera dialed it up a notch and struck out four of the next five batters.
Then the bottom dropped out. After Luckner led off the third with a walk and stole second base, Rivera sent the next two batters back to the dugout on strikeouts.
Giacomo Brancato followed with a hard grounder up the middle that the second baseman Nick Calabrese backhanded, but the throw to first was not in time, with Luckner scoring on the play.
It went from bad to worse for Rivera, who went on to walk the next four batters with DeJordy and Zach Weinstein getting credit for the RBIs.
Drew Farkas came on in relief for the Knights to get the final out, but Warde was out in front by a 4-1 margin.
“I thought our guys were true to form and battled, never giving up,” said Caron. “But this is post-season baseball and there will always be one team that will be satisfied and one team that will be going home. That’s just the way it is at this time of year.”
Southington bounced back with a run in the bottom of the third, after Hewitt got the first two outs on just two pitches.
A walk to Liam Scafariello got it started and then DeAngelo planted one off the top of the right-field wall at the 326-foot mark for a run-scoring double to make it a 4-2 game.
A walk in the bottom of the fourth and two wild pitches from Hewitt opened the door again for the Knights, and a single from Farkas closed the gap at 4-3. Hewitt finished his mound duties going four innings, surrendering just three hits with three strikeouts and four walks issued.
The Mustangs offense was put in check, as Farkas worked four and one-third, retiring the first 10 batters he faced and finished allowing just two hits and one run.
Nardone took over for Hewitt in the fifth and ran into trouble by walking three of the first four batters he faced.
A run-scoring single by Brett Shaw tied the game and a bases-loaded walk to Farkas put the Knights on top by a 5-4 margin.
Southington tacked on a run in the sixth on an error and the second bomb off the right-field fence from DeAngelo for a run-scoring double to make it a 6-4 lead for the Knights.
“It looked like Nardone was having trouble with the mound initially,” said Caron. “He usually gets stronger as the game goes on. But we didn’t make the adjustment when Farkas was elevating his pitches and we just couldn’t lay off of it.”
Warde came to bat for the final time in the top of the seventh and who better to lead off an inning than Luckner, who drilled a single to left and took second when it got by the fielder.
Brancato stepped in with two outs and split the left-center field gap, driving it to the wall for a triple to make it a 6-5 game.
Farkas managed to get strike three past Sabella for the final out of the game.
“Giacomo had a huge hit for us in that last inning to keep it going for us,” said Caron. “I know C.J. is feeling bad right about now, but I wouldn’t want anyone else up there in that situation.
“I’m proud of what he and the rest of the seniors did this year and its something that the baseball program can build on in the future.”

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