Just two games separated the No. 2-7 seeds in the baseball tournament and, true to form, again a lower seed emerged from the fray, in this case No. 7 Danbury.
Just three games separated the top seven seeds in softball, where form usually holds once the postseason begins. But true to the 2013 form of the unpredictable, it was No. 6 seed New Canaan that caught fire and won the first league title in school history.
Softball teams had a disappointing showing in the state playoffs. Only Stamford had a deep run, advancing to the Class LL semifinals.
Baseball was a different story as two long droughts came to an end. St. Joseph won the Class M title, its first since 1985. Less than 24 hours later, New Canaan won the Class L championship and will be able to erase the dust on its lone banner, which came 63 years ago.
It was a memorable year for baseball and softball. Not because the talent level was higher than usual, but spread out more equally.
Here is a quick review with our second annual Extra-Base Hits awards.
SCHOOL OF THE YEAR: NEW CANAAN. (cue Talking Heads soundtrack): This ain’t no lacrosse, this ain’t no golf or tennis, this ain’t no fooling around…”
What a wonderful year on the diamonds for New Canaan. The baseball team, rebounding from the disappointment of a loss to Trumbull in the opening round of the FCIAC Tournament, went the one extra step in the state playoffs, after reaching the semifinal round two years ago and losing in the final last season.
The name Casali again was prominent to baseball in the town. Older brother Curtis was one of the best players in state history and is now playing professionally. But people will be talking about the one-hitter Andrew Casali threw in Sunday’s 3-0 win for a long time.
This was a balanced team that lived up to high preseason expectations in a very difficult league.
Meanwhile, Danielle Simoneau became the first person to win an FCIAC softball title as a head coach and player after leading the Rams to their improbable win. Ali Reilly and Cydney Ventura came through with quality starts, respectively, in the semifinal and championship games. And a group of seniors that as 10-and-under players were touted to elevate their town in the sport did just that.
MVP, BASEBALL: ANDREW CASALI, NEW CANAAN. Great hitter, great pitcher, one-hitter in the biggest win in school history. Call Casali money. And with players like Greenwich’s Taylor Olmstead, Trumbull’s James DeNomme and Danbury’s Corey Brosz, just to name a few, the league was not at a loss for good players this season.
MVP, SOFTBALL: KRISTA ROBUSTELLI, STAMFORD. Darien would have been a completely different team without Erika Osherow pitching. St. Joseph’s Jenn Vazquez and Fairfield Ludlowe’s Brenna Martini are the rare leaders both with their bats AND gloves (Vazquez caught two different pitchers for the second time in three years).
But I can’t remember ever seeing a team deflate after the first batter on the few times Robustelli made an opening out. That happened rarely, and the Black Knights usually re-inflated. There are few players I would ever advise intentionally walking every time up unless it would lead to the winning run. Robustelli is one.
COACH OF THE YEAR, BASEBALL: SHAUN RATCHFORD, DANBURY. You can make a reasonable case for about five coaches. We don’t have the time. One of the league coaches I respect most has always told me that Ratchford is the best coach in the league. The Hatters were the surprising winners of the league title. Sounds like a fit.
COACH OF THE YEAR, SOFTBALL: TONY ESPOSITO, STAMFORD. For 14 years, Esposito has been one of the state’s best coaches. His teams are always well prepared, they never underachieve and he gets every ounce of ability out of players who likely would indeed jump off a bridge for him if told. Esposito is a big reason the Black Knights reached the semifinals of the state tournament this year. And if a ball doesn’t deflect off an umpire in the bottom of the sixth inning against Southington? Likely, it doesn’t change the outcome. But he will always wonder.
SCHOOL WITH BALANCED SCALES: ST. JOSEPH. After a torrid start, the Cadets’ baseball team went 3-4 in their last seven conference games, including a first-round playoff loss to Fairfield Ludlowe. They regrouped during the break and, with a balanced lineup, caught fire and outscored five opponents in the state playoffs, 43-9, the last four games against higher seeds.
Evening that out was the disappointing ending for the St. Joseph softball team, which was the league’s best team during the regular season. But the Cadets were the final victims of New Canaan’s FCIAC purge and came out flat in the first round of the state tournament. The good news is that while there are a couple of big holes to fill, the Cadets will again come back loaded.
THIS HAS TO BE A FIRST: RANDY POLONIA, TRINITY CATHOLIC. The Crusaders’ great pitcher gave new meaning to standing out despite having no run support. How so? Polonia was voted to both the All-FCIAC and All-State teams….with a 1-6 record.
MOST UNDERRATED ALL-FCIAC PLAYERS AT THE SAME POSITION: BRYCE MAHER, RIDGEFIELD; MORGAN KURTZ, WESTHILL. Maher, the Tigers’ shortstop, batted a team-high .435 for one of the league’s best offenses. In polling coaches for the best three players in the league, Maher’s name was mentioned several times. Kurtz made the move from her natural position at second base and was outstanding defensively. She also set the tone as the leadoff hitter for one of the conference’s highest scoring teams.
BEST STORY: CASEY MACK, TRUMBULL: The short version: Mack, without telling even his friends or his own coach, used his own money to buy two new bats that he secretly delivered to the Bassick, Bridgeport Central and Warren Harding coaches. The long version: if you haven’t already, I hope you take a second to click on the link and read this story. Not because I wrote it, but because of what Mack did. It was the impetus for the FCIAC to start a new sportsmanship award, with Mack as the first recipient — fittingly named after former Trumbull coach Jerry McDougall.