The FCIAC Tournament begins in 11 days. The spring season flies by, in a blink it is midseason, another blink and it is playoff time.
There are two storylines going on. The biggest of course is the teams trying to earn one of the eight tournament berths. Today starts with seven teams within two games in the loss column for the final four positions. Three more schools are three games behind, but a hot streak away from getting back into the race.
Then there is the battle for the top four seeds and the chance for a first-round game at home. Today starts with New Canaan, Ridgefield and Westhill tied at 9-2, a game and a half ahead of Wilton. The three schools, as fortune would have it, have yet to play each other.
As we know from the history books, seeding does not portend success. Darien a year ago was the rare regular-season champion that went on to win the postseason title. Lower seeds have fared as well as higher seeds because baseball is not a single-elimination sport. Best-of-three-series would be the fairest format if not for the time element involved.
As we head for the homestretch, here are some off-the-cuff thoughts, in no particular order of importance.
— This week has some added weight for Staples besides just securing a league playoff berth. The Wreckers are 1-8 against teams with winning records heading into home games today and Wednesday when they face, respectively, Ridgefield and New Canaan.
A couple of nice wins on the resume would be a confidence boost before the postseason.
— Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season came when Trumbull was 2-7 on April 19. The Eagles have too much talent on the roster, and they were on the verge of crashing through the rails.
Then they handed New Canaan its first loss, the beginning of a streak of four wins in five games. Trumbull starts the week a half game out of an FCIAC Tournament spot. It would a dangerous lower seed, unless the hot streak continues and it becomes a middle seed.
— Today’s frontrunner is tomorrow’s scrambler. Just look at some of the extreme swings some teams have gone through this season.
Take Danbury. After an opening-day win, the Hatters lost three of four games. Then they won three of four, the last victory in that stretch the start of a three-game winning streak. That was followed by a three-game losing streak.
Which is why, fittingly, the Hatters sit today with a .500 mark, 6-6, in conference play.
Then there is the case of Fairfield Warde, which advanced to the Class LL championship a year ago but was hit hard by graduation losses that seemed to foreshadow a rebuilding year.
The Mustangs would have settled for rebuilding when they opened at 0-6. They lost their first two games by a combined 34-10 margin.
Then they righted themselves with two wins and have won four of their last five. They are 6-9 over all but at 6-5 sit in the eighth and final playoff position to start the week.
— The new pitch-count rule is going to have a bigger impact on the playoffs. The days of throwing a starter in the quarterfinals and then again in the final, with maybe an inning of relief in between, are gone. Teams with pitching depth are going to have an even bigger advantage, and coaches are going to be called upon to make more decisions, weighing in some cases whether to pull starters early with a big lead (and paying the consequences of being second-guessed if such a move ends up in a loss).
Hearst’s Scott Ericson addressed the topic in greater depth over the weekend.
The playoffs this week are scheduled for Friday, Monday and Wednesday (teams will be able to rest their staffs before the start of the state playoffs). Better to worry about today before tomorrow in a win-or-out situation, but it would be surprising if any coaches let a starter throw more than 110 pitches in the quarterfinals with the prospect of not having him available again save for the final being moved back a day because of weather.
This first year with the rule will provide an interesting case study.
Top Of The Order
1. New Canaan (11-3, 9-2). The Rams, Ridgefield and Westhill are on the verge of clinching playoff berths. Win No. 10 will not be easy for New Canaan: four of its final final league games are currently sixth or higher in the standings.
2. Ridgefield (12-3, 9-2). The Tigers are coming off a pair of one-run losses and have a schedule as difficult as the Rams’, with Staples, Westhill, Norwalk and New Canaan in the next seven days.
3. Westhill (11-3, 9-2). This round robin with the current first place teams is like a playoff before the playoffs. The Vikings’ home game with Ridgefield Wednesday is the one I am most looking forward to this week.
4. Wilton (9-3, 7-3). Without much fanfare, the Warriors have won eight of their last nine games.
5. Darien (9-6, 8-4). There are several teams of comparable ability worthy of the fifth spot. We will give the nod to the defending champion.