TRUMBULL -- In baseball, sometimes a standout pitcher can be the equalizer, if not the upset-maker in a favorite-versus-underdog setting.
Ludlowe starter Stephen Zadravec certainly did his part to give his seventh-seeded Falcons a shot at surprising No. 2 St. Joseph in the FCIAC baseball quarterfinals on Tuesday afternoon. But St. Joe's ace Nick Williams was every bit as stingy, if not more, in leading his Cadets to a 2-1 win over the Falcons.
In fact, Williams flirted with a perfect game. Once that was broken up by a full-count, pinch walk by Raymond Condon leading off the sixth inning, Williams tinkered with hurling a no-hitter. He came to within just one out of doing so.
In the end, a last-gasp rally by the Falcons -- a pair of hits following an error to produce their only run, in the seventh -- came up short.
The Cadets will face Warde -- a 6-2 upset winner over Darien -- in Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. semifinal at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.
"Hat's off to him. He had our guys guessing up there," said Ludlowe Coach Mike Francese, whose batters swung too early, too late, or looked at called strikes to the tune of a dozen strikeouts.
Williams fanned the side in the fifth. He used a fastball and curve throughout the outing in his two-hit, one-walk effort. Williams said he trusted the calls of his catcher, Ishmael Herrera, whom he also works with in the offseason.
Some pitchers are -- or at least say they are -- unaware of no-hit or perfect game bids. Not Williams, who was in tune to what was at stake from start to finish, but focused on the bigger picture.
"I knew if I started to think too much about that it would distract me from the ultimate goal which is to come out and win the game," Williams said.
The Falcons were well aware of their fruitless trips to the plate and tried to be patient, attack or bunt their way on base. Nothing worked until that walk, but Williams retired the next three batters in the inning. With one out in the seventh, Connor Daley reached on an error by the third baseman. With two outs, Nick Warkentin hit a clean, first-pitch single to center field. David Pierpont followed with an RBI single to right which moved the potential tying run to second, but Williams got Condon to pop up to left side of the infield to end it.
"It was good to see our guys come out in the last inning and not give up," Francese said.
"We showed some life but, realistically, in a seven-inning game, it's better to start earlier," Warkentin added.
Zadravec was tough and, like his counterpart, tossed a two-hitter. He struck out eight, and was done in by some mistakes. A hit batsman, walk and wild pitch scored the first run, in the second inning. In the third, a single and a couple of errors, the latter of which was a pickoff attempt misfire, produced what proved to be a crucial run.
"It's always fun to be in a pitcher's duel. As a pitcher you look for good competition," said Zadravec, adding that seeing the opposing pitcher continue to hang zeroes serves as motivation.
The Falcons left the field with some hunger created both by this tough loss and knowing what transpired a year ago. Last spring, Ludlowe beat St. Joes in the conference tournament and the Cadets bounced back to win the Class M state championship. Warkentin is hopeful of a flip-flop scenario this go-around, which would mean a Ludlowe run to the Class LL title. "It gives us some motivation," he said.