Pictured: RCP coach Paul Francis has a big hug for winning pitcher Ryan Robb, who fired a two-hitter and remained unbeaten in a Post 105 uniform in Monday’s 1-0 win over Wallingford. (Paul Augeri Photo)
By Marc Silvestrini
CROMWELL – Asked before Monday’s game how he was feeling, Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland ace right-hander Ryan Robb said he felt strong and ready to go.
As things turned out, he would need all the strength and pitching savvy he could muster in pitching the Post 105ers to a nail-biting 1-0 walk-off win against Wallingford in the opening round of the Connecticut American Legion regional qualifying tournament.
Robb tossed a two-hit complete game shutout and Justin Fraleigh and Ryan Boyle provided clutch seventh-inning hits to propel No. 3 seed RCP past the Cardinals and into the tournament’s second round.
The eight-team, double elimination tournament continues Tuesday with RCP, now 17-3, facing Zone 3 rival NCL Windsor Locks/Windsor at Cromwell High School at 5:45 p.m. The teams split their two regular-season games against each other.
No. 6 seed Wallingford (16-7) will attempt to stave off a second loss and elimination when it travels to face No. 2 Madison.
Robb, who is now 15-0 in his career with the RCP program, fanned seven and walked only one in a dominating performance in which he limited Wallingford to only four base runners, with one reaching on an error.
Both Cardinal hits came in the top of the fourth inning. After surrendering the second hit, Robb retired the last 10 batters he faced.
“He was really excellent tonight,” Wallingford coach Chris Bishop said. “I just can’t say enough good things about him. He’s just a great competitor that has a nice mix of pitches, all of which he can throw for strikes.”
RCP managed to push across the game’s only run in the last of the seventh. Fraleigh led off the inning by belting a 3-2 fastball to deep left for a double. He advanced to third with no outs when he slid under a throw by Cardinals catcher Bill Gorry, who had fielded Grant Collins’ sacrifice bunt attempt in front of the plate.
Following a one-out intentional pass to RCP lead-off hitter Elias DeLeon, Boyle sliced a line single to left that plated Fraleigh with the winning run.
“It was a fastball, down and in,” Fraleigh said of his big seventh-inning double. “With a 3-2 count, I was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere and he (Cardinals pitcher Todd Grammatico) put it in a spot where I like to hit.”
The Post 105ers managed to pull out the win despite having lost their coach, Paul Francis, in the top of the sixth. Francis was ejected by the home plate umpire after a comment suggesting that the two umpires were favoring Wallingford was heard from what appeared to be the area where the RCP fans were sitting, just beyond the team’s dugout along the right-field line.
Francis, who was standing at the opposite end of the RCP dugout when the comment was heard, was run from the game though he insisted that a fan had uttered the comment and did not appear to be standing anywhere near the area from which the comment came.
The ejection, which normally carries a two-game suspension, will only cost Francis a single game due to the uncertainty surrounding the comment’s origin and source.
“Our older players came through for us with a couple of big hits at the end — just like they’ve been doing all season,” said Francis, who took in the final two innings from the parking lot just north of Fran Monnes Field.
As for his starting pitcher, Francis just shook his head.
“He’s really been incredible,” the coach said. “He’s a great pitcher, a great competitor and a real good kid.”
Aside from his magical, 84-pitch performance on the mound, Robb also paced RCP’s seven-hit attack, collecting a pair of hits, both off Cardinals starter Kyle Simmons. The other hits, aside from the two big seventh-inning hits by Fraleigh and Boyle, were produced by Tino Gagliardi, DeLeon and Collins.
DeLeon reached base in each of his four at-bats, with a hit, two walks and an intentional pass.
Joe Amarone and Nick Velardi had Wallingford’s two fourth-inning hits off Robb. Simmons allowed four of RCP’s hits in his three-plus innings of work, while Grammatico pitched 3 1/3 innings of effective three-hit relief.
Asked if he was frustrated by RCP’s inability to take advantage of prime scoring opportunities in the second, third and fourth innings (a botched suicide squeeze attempt, a bases-loaded grounder to third and a spectacular double play defused the three would-be rallies), Robb said he never had the “slightest doubt” about his teammates and their ability to come through for him.
“I knew that if I just went out there and did my job, my teammates would pick me up and get me enough runs to win the game,” he said. “I just knew we had it in us.”
Wallingford…000 000 0–0 2 0
RCP……………..000 000 1–1 7 1
Batteries: W–Simmons, Grammatico (4) and Gorry; RCP–Robb and Polizonis. WP: Robb; LP: Grammatico. 2B: RCP–Gagliardi, Fraleigh. Records: Wallingford 16-7; RCP 17-3.