Pictured: RCP’s Tino Gagliardi, who singled in the seventh, walks off Fran Monnes Field after NCL records the final out of a 6-3 win Wednesday. (Paul Augeri Photo)
By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL – NCL nailed down a 6-3 victory over Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland in about 10 minutes Wednesday to stay unbeaten in the American Legion state regional qualifying tournament.
The game at Cromwell High’s Fran Monnes Field was picked up from Tuesday, when the contest was suspended because of lightning with Zone 3 runner-up NCL (representing Windsor, Windsor Locks and Suffield) ahead by the same score with one out in the seventh.
Nick Polizonis, on in relief of third RCP pitcher Jesse Frazer, induced two NCL groundouts on six pitches to keep it a three-run game.
In RCP’s half of the seventh, Ryan Boyle was called out on a checked-swing third strike and Polizonis lined out to center as left-hander Nick Gomes got two quick outs. Tino Gagliardi lined a single into center before Ryan Robb hit it hard but right at center fielder Ben Tillotson for the final out.
But all is not lost for the Zone 3 champs.
As the highest seed left in the double-elimination qualifier, Post 105 (No. 3, 17-4) will host No. 4 Fairfield on Thursday (5:45pm). The loser will be eliminated and cycle back into the 32-team state tournament, which starts Monday.
“Looking at the bigger picture, we still have a good shot at this thing,” RCP coach Paul Francis said. “I like us in adversity-type spots. Yes, we’d rather be 2-0, but we’re not uncomfortable in this position having an older group.”
“It’s game on tomorrow. It’s a big one,” he said, adding his team is not yet playing its best baseball.
Polizonis, Frazer and Zach Zajac will be available to pitch against Fairfield. Zajac was yanked in the first inning Tuesday after surrendering five runs on five hits and a walk. Justin Valentin shut down No. 7 NCL over the next five innings before giving way to Frazer in the sixth.
“We know these guys can pitch, so we really said, ‘They’re usually around the plate, let’s attack,” NCL coach Ariel Rosario said. “We were definitely looking for fastballs early in the count and we hit them hard.
NCL is 2-1 against RCP this season. The sides have a competitive, spirited rivalry and, as Rosario said, a mutual respect for each other. Last summer, with the American Legion season canceled because of the pandemic, the two squared off in the CTEBA state tournament championship game. RCP won 3-2.
“They’re always in the postseason,” Rosario said. “We kind of model ourselves after them, built on pitching and strong defense, and fortunately we have pretty good hitting to go along with that (this summer). We’re a well-complemented, well-rounded team right now.”
NCL won on the road in its opener, 3-1 over No. 2 Madison, and remains in the winners bracket. Rosario’s club will play Meriden on the road Thursday. Post 45 beat Greenwich 7-6 in extra innings Wednesday.
“We said we’d probably be the most dangerous seventh seed that anybody (could) face,” Rosario said, “only because we were in the state championship last year against these guys, and we pretty much had everybody returning hungry with a chance to get back to this point. “Being a seven seed didn’t faze us. We have veteran leadership and these guys aren’t afraid to compete.”
If RCP advances, unbeaten right-hander Ryan Robb would be available on Friday against the loser of the NCL-Meriden. Meanwhile, Wallingford hosts Greenwich in an elimination game Thursday.
The regional’s top two seeds, Waterford and Madison, went a combined 0-4 in the tournament and were held to one run apiece.