NORWALK, Conn. -- Like their 12-year-old counterparts, the Norwalk Cal Ripken 9-year-old All-Stars came within one inning of capturing their district championship. But a three-run homer by Stratford's Jack Ryan put the home team ahead for good in the fifth inning of a winner-take-all final, giving Stratford a 10-8 victory and an automatic berth at the Ripken state tournament.
Earlier in the district tournament, Norwalk defeated Stratford 7-6, but the host team battered Norwalk 19-3 in a rematch to set up the third and deciding game between the area's top two 9-year-old Ripken teams last week at Stratford's Clover Field.
Although Stratford got on the board first with one run in the first inning, Norwalk responded with four runs in the top of the second when Chris Veneruso hit a bases-loaded double and Jake Dumas followed with an RBI single.
Stratford recaptured the lead with five runs in the bottom of the second, but in the top of the third Norwalk's Jake Deleo singled and scored to narrow the lead to 6-5. Stratford extended its lead to 7-5 in the bottom of the third, but Norwalk roared back with three runs in the top of the fourth to go ahead 8-7, thanks to consecutive hits by Veneruso, Dumas, Deleo and Randy Mateo. After that, Stratford reliever Jarred Grindred held Norwalk's offense in check, and Ryan's home run sealed the victory.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Norwalk edged Stratford 7-6 in extra innings. Norwalk took the lead in first inning when Veneruso scored on a fielder's choice. Norwalk erupted for five runs in the second inning, with the key hit being a bases-loaded triple by Jake Dumas. But Stratford tied the game by scoring four times in the fifth inning. Following a scoreless sixth, Norwalk went ahead in the top of the first extra frame when Deleo reached on a Stratford error and scored on another miscue. After allowing a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh, Deleo closed the game by inducing an infield pop up and striking out the last two Stratford batters.
The second game with Stratford was no contest. The home team tallied four runs in each of the first four innings to take a commanding 12-3 lead and then scored seven times in the fifth inning to end the game early via the mercy rule, 19-3. Norwalk's runs all came in the third inning, when Veneruso walked, Dumas doubled and both runners came home on consecutive infield errors. Later in the inning, Connor Murray walked and scored on a fielder's choice.
Earlier in the tournament, Norwalk trounced New Canaan 23-4. Norwalk scored nine times in the first inning, with the big blow being a bases-loaded double by Dumas. Norwalk tacked on four more runs in the second inning, thanks to hits by Deleo, Ryan D'Amico, Connor Murray and Jared Jones. Veneruso and Mateo had key hits in the nine-run third inning that ended the mercy-rule shortened contest.
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