Few coaches are more pragmatic than Danbury baseball coach Shaun Ratchford. While others succumb to knee-jerk reactions, Ratchford knows successful teams are hatched from taking the long view.
Ratchford adheres to the basic tenets of the sport without sprouting cliches. He is measured in victory and especially defeat.
“You have to be because the kids take their cue from the top,” Ratchford said. “If I start to panic then the kids are going to start to panic. It doesn’t mean in the inside my stomach isn’t churning. In this league you know when you have a certain number of losses you’re staring down a barrel you may not want to face.”
The Hatters were not confronting that barrel, but consecutive losses to Fairfield Ludlowe and Staples two weeks ago left them at 2-3.
Strictly from listening to Ratchford after the Staples game, it would have been difficult to determine the outcome.
“I think sometimes out of those tough losses come good things if you’re willing to admit your weaknesses and address them in practice.”
Those words look prophetic four straight wins later, including three last week by a 37-10 margin.
“You’re not going to score over 30 runs many weeks in the FCIAC,” Ratchford said. “The kids were tremendous. They were buying what we were selling — not that every coach doesn’t do that — but we had really good practices and we challenged the seniors to lead. What do they want? This is your last hurrah. The coaches will be back. What legacy do you want to leave behind for the kids to remember you by?”
That composure is one of many reasons why Ratchford will be inducted into the FCIAC Hall of Fame later this spring, and why the Hatters are just 1 1/2 games behind Staples for the league’s best record.
“That’s why we preach it is so important to play as a team, be able to communicate with each other, acknowledge your weaknesses,” Ratchford said. “You may be able to win 16-2 today but can you go on Monday and play St. Joseph and win 1-0 or a 2-1 game? That’s always the challenge you tell the kids.”
Ratchford was referring to the score of Friday’s win over Darien and today’s scheduled home game against the Cadets, which was rained out.
There was good reason not to overreact to the two-game losing streak. The losses came to two of the league’s best teams as we reach midseason. They were by a combined three runs, and better execution could have altered the outcome of one if not both games.
Ratchford said the current run was fueled by a few days of workouts that served to recalibrate his players.
“I have a ton of great assistant coaches who like to teach and the kids get a lot of great individual work. I think that makes a huge difference,” Ratchford said.
The Hatters have a strong team, starting with the No. 1 hitter in the batting order and No. 1 pitcher.
Javon Hernandez, known to some as the playmaking point guard for the school’s basketball team, is Ratchford’s catalyst. Last week against Darien and Westhill, he reached base 10 straight times on four hits, five walks and getting hit by a pitch.
“He’s huge,” Ratchford said. “When you can start a game up 1-0 when you have two batters up as we did against Darien, if you can wreak havoc on the basepaths as he did at Westhill… When that happens we’re going to do well. He has great instincts on the bases. And he gets the kids going. He relaxes the kids. They know how well he’s done in basketball, they know he’s a real good player so he could isolate himself. Instead he brings the team together to get the young kids to relax, because we’re playing some freshmen, and he’s done a great job of making them comfortable.”
Solimine, who will be playing next year at Manhattan, is one of the league’s top pitchers. He usually gets starts on Mondays, with Matt Sabene getting the ball on Wednesdays and Rich Wekerle on Fridays. Justin Hope and Andrew Philbin are a pair of solid closers.
“I have four other kids who can come in and do well,” Ratchford said. “That’s a huge thing.”
There is nothing Ratchford likes more than two-strike hits and two-out RBIs. But he offered a predictable answer when asked the keys to success the rest of the season.
“Pitching and defense,” Ratchford said. “Hitting is fleeting, you can hit the ball extremely hard and hit it at people, so you can’t count on getting five, six, 10 hits a game. But you can play defense well, you can pitch it well. Can you win that 2-1 game in the FCIAC, can you win that game on the road 3-1, 3-2? Then you’re talking.”
Top Of The Order
1. Staples (8-1, 5-0 FCIAC). The Wreckers are the last remaining unbeaten team in league play. Their pitchers have allowed just three runs in the last three games.
2. Fairfield Ludlowe (9-1, 5-1). The Falcons rebounded from their first loss, to Ridgefield, with a quality win over Trumbull.
3. Ridgefield (8-2, 4-2). The Tigers are also receiving quality pitching, and seem to have good depth behind Matt DeLuca.
4. St. Joseph (5-2, 3-1). The Cadets’ offense has been cranking, with 57 runs in five games.
5. Danbury (6-3, 4-2). What a difference a strong 3-0 week makes.