The chatter started back in March: this was the season the Staples baseball team would finally take a fall back to the pack. The Wreckers had won three of the previous five FCIAC titles, given the parity in the league an extraordinary accomplishment (consider since Trinity Catholic won back to back championships in 1999 and 2000, no other school has won two titles less than five years apart).
The skeptics certainly looked correct when a midseason three-game losing streak left the team at 4-4.
“We still felt we were right there,” said Staples coach Jack McFarland, noting that two of the losses, to Ridgefield and Fairfield Ludlowe, were by just one run. “We sat the kids down after 10 games and told them this is what we had to do. We had to treat every game like it is an elimination game. This is what we are going to have to do to make it to the FCIAC Tournament for the sixth straight year.”
Staples coach Jack McFarland contests a call during a game against St. Joseph.
Mission accomplished. The Wreckers enter this final week of the regular season riding a four-game winning streak. The highlight was last Friday’s 3-2 road win over Greenwich, which today would be the top seed in the FCIAC Tournament. They have won six of their last seven games, the lone loss a 4-3 decision to St. Joseph, which is a half game behind the Cardinals.
“Obviously we were down and a little disappointed, but if you look at the scores we lost by… We just had to correct a few things. Our pitchers weren’t throwing enough strikes. If you don’t throw strikes the defense gets bored.”
McFarland said the Wreckers no longer have a set pitching rotation. He goes by feel, selecting a pitcher he thinks will create the most difficult matchup for opponents.
Staples is hardly a lock for the league playoffs. Right now it has a tenuous hold on the No. 8 spot. The Wreckers are tied with Wilton but won the teams’ meeting last Monday. Darien is just a game behind. And the final three games start at Danbury and Trumbull, which is just a game ahead of Staples right now.
The season ends with a game against Bassick, so a 2-1 week will likely get the Wreckers into the playoffs. Going 3-0 might earn them a No. 6 seed. One thing is certain: a Greenwich, St. Joseph, New Canaan or Ridgefield is going to be the top seed. You think any of them want to earn that reward and see Staples in the opening round?
“We’ve fed off of that,” McFarland said. “We’re not in and probably nobody wants us in, but we feel if we get in we can do something.”
The Eagles have landed — back in the race
After two seasons away from the FCIAC Tournament, a prominent league coach told me he expected Trumbull to rebound this season and earn one of the lower seeds for the playoffs. That looked like an impossibility after the Eagles opened the season 1-5.
Since then, Trumbull has come storming back. It won eight of the previous nine games — including a victory over Westhill and Friday’s 9-0 rout of Danbury — before suffering a tough 6-4 loss in 11 innings to Greenwich on Sunday.
Now, one of the best storylines of the regular season’s final week is the battle between three teams for the final two spots. The Eagles would have jumped by tiebreaker into the 8th spot with a win over the Cardinals. They are now a game behind Danbury and two behind New Canaan.
Trumbull will be an underdog in just one of its final four games, against town rival St. Joseph, and has two other games against similar level teams. New Canaan has to play four games in four days, and the first three are Fairfield Ludlowe, Westhill and Greenwich. Danbury still has Ludlowe and Greenwich as part of its four final games.
So while the battle at the top — just 2 1/2 games separate the top teams right now — will be compelling the one at the bottom will also provide plenty of intrigue.
Top of the order
1. ST. JOSEPH (14-2): The Cadets have won nine straight and are in the middle of a four-team race for the top seed in next week’s FCIAC Tournament. Based on recent history, and more so this year, seedings mean little.
2. NEW CANAAN (13-3): The Rams return to the top 3 — the only reason for their absence was having the most recent loss of the teams ahead — and are considered by many the thinnest of favorites heading into the league playoffs.
3. GREENWICH (14-3): The Cardinals, with Sunday’s big win over Trumbull, have moved a half-game in front for the conference’s best record.
1. ST. JOSEPH (13-3): I saw the Cadets on Friday for the second time — I will see them again Wednesday — and they came away with an impressive 7-0 win over Stamford. Right now they have the best balance of pitching, offense and defense that I have seen so far.
2. DARIEN (14-3): The Blue Wave are part of the four-way tie for the top seed heading into the final week. Right now they are the X-factor because of the way Erika Osherow has been dominating on the mound. Looking forward to seeing her Monday against Stamford.
3. WESTHILL (13-3): The Vikings have the best overall offense, 1 through 9 in the batting order, in the league. In the year of the hitter, will that carry them to a championship?
(I invite you to follow me on Twitter: @DaveRuden and like the Overtime Facebook fan page.)