Norwalk wins fourth straight Ripken state title
NORWALK — As one of the big bats in the Norwalk Cal Ripken All-Star lineup, Charlie Lafreniere is used to cleaning the bases.
On Friday night, he instead helped set the table for his team’s fourth straight age-group state championship.
Lafreniere’s double to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning sparked a seven-run uprising as Norwalk defeated New Canaan 9-3 at Devine Field to win the 12-year-old state Ripken championship.
Norwalk had previously won state and New England titles as 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds, too.
“It means a lot,” Lafreniere said. “I can’t think of another kid who has done that, except for the kids on this team and that’s pretty incredible.”
Despite the final score, it wasn’t easy.
New Canaan took a 3-1 lead after 11/2 innings against Norwalk and led 3-2 entering the fifth inning.
Lafreniere led off that home half of the fifth by legging out a double to right-center field.
Jack Roberts tied the game with a single, but also gave Norwalk even more momentum.
Victoria Ward and Will Stalzer both singled to load the bases with nobody out.
Keegan Cullen then delivered a two-run single to give Norwalk the lead.
“With a game in your pocket, I wasn’t really worried, but I wanted to win tonight, absolutely,” Norwalk manager Billy Lengyel said. “I didn’t know we were going to have to wait until the fifth inning to be able to do that, but that’s why you play six innings.”
Norwalk still wasn’t done.
Isaiah Joseph (2 for 2 off the bench) delivered a two-run single, Henry Feinstein later added an RBI double and Lafreniere capped off the scoring with an RBI single.
“We have that certain magic where you have one inning that defines the game,” Lafreniere said. “It looks like a blowout, but it wasn’t at all. This score does not indicate how close this game was at all.”
A CLOSE CALL
New Canaan has never beaten Norwalk during their all-star battles, but it’s getting closer and closer.
The Rams took a 1-0 lead in the first and added two more runs on a Jack Sommers single and Jack Sheffield’s bases-loaded walk.
Norwalk got one run back in the third on Roberts’ sacrifice fly, but a literal “hit” played a major role in changing of the tide.
In the fourth inning, Joseph — pinch-hitting — ripped a screaming line drive up the middle, connecting with the lower leg of New Canaan pitcher Danny Rogers.
Rogers had given Norwalk fits throughout the tournament and was forced to leave the game.
“I think Danny pitched great,” New Canaan manager Josh Cooney said. “He kept them off balance the entire game. He was tremendous. Unfortunately, he got hurt.”
Salty Balkun took over on the hill and worked out of a no-outs, two-on jam, but Norwalk’s bats would wake up an inning later.
“They don’t make mistakes and they just put the pressure on you,” Cooney said. “I’m proud of how my guys played. We fought very hard. You just have to take your hat off to them.”
While Norwalk’s bats often get the headlines, its pitchers are solid on the hill.
After giving up three runs in an inning-plus of play, relief pitchers Kyle Close and Roberts shut down New Canaan the rest of the way.
“(New Canaan) came out and scored three runs in the first two innings and that’s all they scored,” Lengyel said. “You have to give our guys credit for stopping the bleeding.”
That let Norwalk’s offense shine.
Lafreniere finished the game 4 for 4 for Norwalk with three singles and his double.
“He’s a player,” Lengyel said. “I wouldn’t want to see him four times in a game. The more he gets up the more chances he has to do damage.”
Roberts, meanwhile, drove in three runs with two singles and a sacrifice fly. Henry Feinstein and Ward also had two hits each.
As runner-up, New Canaan will represent Connecticut and play Nashua, N.H., at the New England Regional championships later this month.
Norwalk advances straight to the 32-team Cal Ripken 12-year-old World Series in Branson, Mo.
NORWALK 9, NEW CANAAN 3
NEW CANAAN 120 000—3 4 0
NORWALK 101 07x—9 17 0
Batteries: New Canaan Danny Rogers, Salty Balkun (4), Jack Sommers (5) and Sam Bisesi; N—Sean Lengyel, Kyle Close (2), Jack Roberts (5) and Keegan Cullen, Victoria Ward (6).