You didn’t need to be a high-stakes roller at either Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun to realize the odds would be high that Monday afternoon’s Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) Housatonic Division game between Shelton and Amity would be a close one and, more than likely, would be decided by either a run or perhaps, two.
After all, between the two schools they own the last four CIAC Class LL state championships, with Amity having taken titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The outcome was a 1-0 Spartan’s victory at Woodbridge’s Janenda Field which extended their 2016 won-lost record to 4-0. After three postponements, it turned out to be the opening game for the Gaels — who have only two returning starters from a team which won 15 regular-season games last year.
“Considering it was their first game outdoors under real game conditions, they played phenomenally well,” said Amity coach Sal Coppola. “With the exception of one chance (an error by Gael third baseman Drew Fernandes) they made every play. They played a solid defensive game which you don’t usually see when it’s your first regular-season game.”
It was that error, which occurred in the fourth inning, which opened the door for the Spartans.
Fernandes couldn’t find the handle on Brian Ronai’s grounder. After Amity’s starting and eventual winning pitcher Eli Oliphant popped out to Shelton shortstop David Wells, Jack Nolan lined a single to right with Ronai advancing to third.
Shelton then got the second out on an Adam Hurwitz fly ball to center which was corralled by Chris Kanios.
Matt Tomei followed with a hard-hit, bad-hop infield hit which went off of Fernandes’ glove and into foul territory.
Ronai scored with Nolan going to third.
But Shelton pitcher Carl Kopf got out of the inning without further damage when first baseman Craig McNamara collared Colin Beaulieu’s ground ball and beat him to the bag.
Kopf allowed only five hits and a single run while striking out two and not allowing a walk over six innings. He threw 66 pitches.
He wasn’t even a varsity pitcher in 2015, when coach Scott Gura’s staff was headed up by Mike Cowell and Justin Lynch.
“Carl pitched an incredible game,” Gura said. “He held a team which can hit (the Spartans came into Monday’s game having scored 26 runs in three wins) and held them to five hits. He kept us in the game today.”
Shelton had a chance to tie the game nullified in the fifth when Jason DeSio overran third base on Kanois’s single to center. Caught halfway between third and home, he was thrown out by Amity catcher Pat Winkel after Oliphant took the cutoff and fired home. Winkel made a perfect peg to third and DeSio was tagged out.
Wells was then walked by Oliphant and both runners moved up on a double steal. But Oliphant, on a gritty performance in which he struck out 10, hit two batters and gave up three walks while throwing 104 pitches, brought the inning to a close when he got McNamara on a swinging third strike.
“He (DeSio) got caught in no-man’s land,” Gura said. “Being a catcher, he’s not a quick runner and we were in between whether to send him or hold him. If the ball had been hit a little less sharper, we no doubt would have sent him.”
In all, Shelton left six runners on base. After the fifth, however, Oliphant, Amity’s No. 2 pitcher last year, retired the final six batters he faced.
“Eli was just gutsy today,” Copola said. “When he needed to bear down, he did. That strikeout in the fifth (getting McNamara) was big. He threw gas on that last pitch. He just dug down deep inside and threw three or four miles-per-hour faster than he normally does.”
The two teams will have at it again on April 27 when the Spartans visit Shelton.