BETHEL -- The Danbury 10-year-old travel baseball team had already secured a spot in the Cal Ripken regional tournament simply by agreeing to host the tournament, so playing in the state tournament could have been viewed as a mere formality.
But Danbury, which won the state championship last year as 9-year-olds, was determined to qualify for the regionals on its own merit rather than on a technicality.
And it did just that.
Danbury captured its second consecutive state title on Thursday night, defeating Bethel 10-0 in a game shortened by the 10-run mercy rule. The win completed an unbeaten run through the state tournament and gave Danbury the satisfaction of knowing that it had earned its way into the regionals.
"We've always come to play and we knew it would take good hitting, pitching and fielding to win. We just kept it going," Danbury coach Lisa Cianflone said after handing out trophies to her players. "Every game, we did what we needed to do and we executed."
Danbury pitchers Justin Solimine and Daniel Villalona combined on a one-hit shutout. Solimine started on the mound and pitched three hitless innings, striking out one. The only blemish on his pitching record was a second-inning walk to Brett Anderson.
Villalona pitched the final two innings and allowed one hit and one walk while striking out three. Patrick Fancher's infield single in the fourth inning was Bethel's lone hit.
Villalona's two-run triple with one out in the fifth ended the game, plating Jake Matson and Zach Demko with the ninth and 10th runs. Matson had walked and Demko had legged out an infield single to set the table.
Lefty-swinging Richard Wekerle singled twice, drew a walk, drove in a run and scored a run for Danbury. Demko had two singles, a stolen base and a run. Jack Hall singled, drew two walks and drove in three runs; his two-out, two-run single put Danbury on the board in the first inning. Luke Shliger singled, stole a base and scored two runs. Solimine singled, walked, scored two runs and drove in a run. Matson had an RBI single and drew two walks. Javon Hernandez singled, walked and scored two runs. Cody Waterbury added a single.
And Danbury played some spectacular defense in support of its pitchers. Hernandez made a dazzling catch, racing from his shortstop position into foul territory behind third base and diving toward the fence to catch a pop-up to end the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, the slick-fielding Hernandez handled with ease a grounder that had taken a bad hop and made a strong throw to first for the out. Shliger, the catcher, threw out a runner trying to steal second base to end the second inning. Second baseman Randy Sayers made a nice play to stop a grounder headed toward the hole between first and second to record an out in the fourth.
To advance to the championship game from the loser's bracket, Bethel had to play six games in six days, including Wednesday night's thrilling 2-0 victory over Newtown in the loser's bracket final. Noah Jensen, Brett Anderson and Shawn Sato shared the pitching duties on Thursday, and the Bethel defense made some fine plays behind them. Like Kyle Platt's sure-handed grab on a tough grounder in the third inning. And Brandon Quink's running catch in center field with two on and one out in the fourth. Danbury was up 8-0 at the time, and if those two runners had scored, the game would have been over. But Quink made the catch and made a strong throw to the cutoff man to hold the two runners.
Despite the loss, Bethel, too, will play in the New England regionals, which are set to begin in Danbury on July 21. Bethel won the regional championship last year as 9-year-olds.
"I'm very, very proud of them. We had to fight to get where we were," Bethel coach Tom Carraturo said. "To play in the regionals two years in a row is not an easy task, and we're looking forward to playing close to home in Danbury."
BETHEL 000 00 -- 0 1 1
DANBURY 251 02 -- 10 11 1
Batteries: B-Noah Jensen (L), Brett Anderson (2), Shawn Sato (5) and Andrew Hartman. D-Justin Solimine (W), Daniel Villalona (4) and Luke Shliger, C.J. Cianflone (5). SO: Jensen 3, Anderson 3; Solimine 1, Villalona 3. BB: Jensen 1, Anderson 5; Solimine 1, Villalona 1.
3B: Villalona (D). RBI: D-Jack Hall 3, Villalona 3, Solimine, Jake Matson, Richard Wekerle, Zach Demko.