This one was hard to swallow. After three straight days of rainouts, high school baseball finally returned on Thursday and Fairfield Ludlowe was just one out away from clinching a state playoff berth. But a frustrating season continued to be just that, as conference powerhouse Staples stunned the Falcons in their final at-bat.
With his team leading 6-4 in the top of the seventh, Ludlowe starter Dylan Grande quickly sat down the first two Staples batters. Grande even got Staples slugger Colin McCarthy down to his last strike, but the Wreckers' first baseman cut the lead to one. On the very next pitch, shortstop Tyler Jacobs crushed a ball to the left-center gap, plating the tying and go-ahead runs.
Seven more Wreckers would come to the plate before the inning was over and just like that, Ludlowe's playoff dreams were put on hold again. Ryan Burke added insult to injury, clubbing a two-run home run over the left field fence to give Staples a dramatic 10-6 win.
"The pressure to get that one win to get in [to the playoffs] feels the same no matter how many games you have left," Ludlowe head coach Keith O'Rourke said. "We can't worry that our back is up against the wall. All we can worry about is making each play and getting all 21 outs."
For 20 outs, it appeared that Ludlowe would have the comeback victory to talk about. The Falcons trailed 4-0 early, but stormed back in the bottom of the third.
Five straight batters reached base as Ludlowe tagged Staples starter Erik Sawyer for five runs. Center fielder Ryan Moore drove in the go-ahead run, dropping a two-run double just inside the right field foul line.
Ludlowe added one more in the fourth on a wild pitch, but left runners on second and third. The Falcons failed to get a runner past second in the final three innings.
"We went toe to toe with Staples and St. Joe's, two of the top teams in the state. We could have and should have won both," O'Rourke said. "But all we have to do is go out and play the way that we're capable of playing."
Ludlowe will have one last shot to clinch a state playoff berth when it hosts Ridgefield Friday at 4 p.m. in its regular-season finale.
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