Fairfield Prep baseball head coach Rudy Mauritz waited more than a week for his team to get to the state playoffs.
The Jesuits talked about it every day during their three-game losing streak. Finally before Prep’s game Monday against ND-West Haven, Mauritz gave up his “clinching day” speech.
Apparently that, and a hot start, made all the difference.
“We’ve been sitting on seven wins for over a week,” Mauritz said. “We didn’t bring up the subject today, and the guys were a tad looser.”
Prep’s ace Brett Young pitched five shutout innings, and sophomore Shawn Blake delivered the big blow, a first-inning, two-RBI triple in the first. The Jesuits scored three runs in the first inning, and tacked on single tallies later in the game.
“It’s easier for us to be aggressive and play our game when we’re ahead,” Mauritz said.
Prep lost three straight last week, and was bombed by Daniel Hand on Saturday. But Mauritz told me he thinks his club responded to the challenge of playing against one of the state’s best.
“Whatever the sport … when we’re playing our biggest rivals, our guys really pick up their intensity,” he said. “When we play those teams that are really good … our guys have a way of playing their best.”
Just two days removed from the biggest upset in the tri-state area in years, Prep dodged a letdown.
Prep got four goals apiece from Tim Edmonds and Matt Brophy in its 14-8 win over Greenwich Monday. The Jesuits won their fourth straight game, a stretch that included a shocking 11-10 win over Long Island powerhouse Chaminade on Saturday.
The Jesuits have beaten Greenwich two straight games — including a 10-9 win that ended the Cardinals season in 2011. The inter-conference foes, who have met four of the past six years in the Class L state tournament — including the 2007 state championship game — have developed something of a rivalry, according to Prep coach Chris Smalkais.
“We have a bit of an informal rivalry because of the playoff history we have with them,” Smalkais said. “It’s good to compete against teams who challenge you, to see how good you can be.”
Greenwich coach Scott Bulkley, who has a young team this year and is only 6-7, shared Smalkais’ sentiments.
“We try to challenge ourselves all the time,” Bulkley said. “(Prep’s) win against Chaminade proves that they’re one of the best teams in the tri-state area.”
Bulkley was proud of his club, despite its inability to possess on offense.
“We did some good things,” he said. “But we made some mistakes.”
Brophy, who has now played against Greenwich six times in his four years at Prep, understands what the Cardinals bring to the table.
“They’re always well-coached,” he said. “Bulkley knows what he’s doing over there.”
Despite Greenwich’s 6-7 record, another meeting in states is certainly possible; perhaps even in the first round.
Prep was also concerned about a letdown on the heels of that win over Chaminade that a letdown would damage its image.
Jesuits defender Conor Barr told me after the game that being the top team in the state — and unseating No. 1 Darien — certainly would not happen without a win over the Cardinals.
“We talked about how the win Saturday wouldn’t win without winning (Monday),” Barr said. “(Smalkais) said ‘if you want to be known as better than Darien you have to win today’ and I think we cemented that.”
Prep still has a big week ahead, with a showdown against FCIAC-royalty Wilton sandiwiching an SCC-game against Branford Wednesday.
Despite Prep’s win over Chaminade, I still had Darien as the top-team in my New Haven Register Poll. The Blue Wave beat Greenwich and St. Anthony’s (N.Y.). Prep was second and Ridgefield was third, after their sound beating of Brien McMahon on Saturday.
Wilton was fourth and Barlow– fresh off a dominant 11-1 win over Weston– rounded out my top-five.
Finally, some daps need to be given to Fairfield Warde.
The Mustangs beat Bunnell 14-2 on Friday night to clinch their seventh win and the program’s first trip to the state playoffs.
Warde coach Tom Cunningham reached out to me on Tuesday saying “It’s been a team effort. If you look at the scoresheets, there’ve been games where we’ve had 12 guys on the scoresheet. Everyone’s been getting involved.”
Pat Pickens is the sports editor of the Fairfield Citizen, a Hearst Connecticut Newspaper organization. Follow him on Twitter here.