Tracy Nichols refers to it as “the magical mystery ride.”
Even the Trinity Catholic baseball coach’s description of his team’s improbable trip to the Class S semifinals may not do it justice.
“The kids who have been playing have been doing a great job,” Nichols said.
It is because of the kids who haven’t been playing that helps make the Crusaders’ story so compelling.
Trinity seemed poised for at least a longer stay than one might expect from a No. 21 seed in the tournament. A 10-10 regular season record exceeded the modest expectations for a team that entered the season viewed by others as Randy Polonia and the No Names. And unlike other Class S schools, the Crusaders entered the postseason seasoned from a difficult FCIAC schedule.
On the weekend before the tournament started Polonia, who was voted the conference’s Most Outstanding Player on Thursday, sustained a season-ending sprained ankle. Polonia, the team’s No. 1 pitcher, had a 6-1 record and a 1.17 earned run average. He batted .506 and played shortstop. He is an All-State talent at each position.
With Polonia, the Crusaders were considered a sleeper, especially because their No. 2 starter, Anthony Hoegemann, had come on strong at the end of the regular season.
Kyle Kashian, the team’s second baseman and a pitcher, sustained a broken nose and is allowed to play the field but not bat. Outfielder Jackson Solis missed Friday’s 8-6 win over No. 4 Seymour because he had to fly to Mexico to be the best man at his brother’s wedding. Nichols lost two other starters for personal reasons and dressed only 11 players against Seymour.
Then there has been the travel. A 106-mile trip to Putnam for the first round, a 108-mile trip to Stafford in the second round. Nichols referred to the game at Seymour as “a puddle jumper.” Up next is another long bus ride to Berlin for the semifinals.
Said Nichols, “You might as well call us the road warriors.”
And just to add an element of the bizarre, Nichols was warned prior to the game at Stafford by the site director to beware: there had been bear sitings.
“They just want to win so badly,” Nichols said. “They are all good kids to be around. The entire team is like a breath of fresh air.”
If there has been a constant to the Trinity sports program over the years, it is having kids who always give maximum effort, despite often being at personnel disadvantages against larger schools. This team is emblematic of that quality.
Hoegemann has been a revelation. He won the second round game against Stafford, a 5-0 shutout, and came on in relief to close out the victory over Seymour. He will start Tuesday’s semifinal against Portland.
“He’s pitched great,” Nichols said. “He started against Staples early in the year and couldn’t get anyone out, but (Wreckers coach) Jack McFarland commented how he had a great arm. He’s really come on since then.”
Catcher Thomas Costigan had three hits against Seymour, Connor Amann has done a solid job filling in for Polonia at shortstop, and Dillon Daine and Matt Fraioli have anchored the corners of the infield.
Then there is the case of Cameron Greig, who in the midst of a batting slump told teammate Matt Christensen he was going to bunt to try and get on base against Seymour. Christensen advised against it. Greig, with Trinity trailing, 3-2, hit a solo home run to tie the game and a three-run homer in the seventh to break it open.
“We’re getting timely hitting,” Nichols said. “In the fourth inning of the Seymour game I just looked at the kids and said you just refuse to lose. We’re not beating ourselves defensively.”
Portland is the No. 17 seed and took out No. 1 East Hampton in the second round.
One of the two underdogs will be playing for a state championship.
“The kids just go on the field and give you 100 percent, and when they walk off the field there are no regrets,” Nichols said.