By Emery Filmer
NEW CANAAN – It could have just been his decades of experience coaching baseball that led Trinity Catholic coach Tracy Nichols to make such a comment in the bottom of the fourth inning of Tuesday’s Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference quarterfinal playoff game against New Canaan.
It might have merely been a gut feeling. Or perhaps it was as simple as knowing the mental and physical make-up of his best player, Randy Polonia.
But after New Canaan’s Kane Curtin led off the bottom of the fourth with a triple off Polonia with the host Rams already ahead 1-0, Nichols leaned over and announced to whomever might be listening: “If they don’t score this inning we win the game.”
Polonia made his coach a look like a prophet. He worked out of trouble, stranding the runner at third, then keyed a three-run fifth-inning rally with a clutch two-out, run-scoring single. The senior righthander and UConn recruit didn’t allow a runner past first the rest of the way as the Crusaders earned a berth in Wednesday’s semifinals with a 3-1 victory.
“Randy just finds a way,” Nichols said of his ace, who improved to 11-0 on the season. “It was not his best day (Polonia finished with an eight-hitter and zero walks), but he can beat you in so many ways. It’s just his personality. He just says, ‘You’re not scoring.’ That’s the essence of Randy.”
Polonia outdueled New Canaan ace David Giusti (6-3) in a matchup of two of the FCIAC’s best pitchers.
“My curveball was not on point today but my slider was working real well,” Polonia said. “The key was I kept throwing strikes and my teammates played great behind me.”
The defense for sixth seed Trinity (15-6), led by shortstop Matt Fraioli and outfielders Nick Lupinacci and Cam Greig, was spectacular. But it would be the third seed Rams (15-6) going to Harbor Yard Wednesday if not for Polonia. Not only did he get out of the fourth-inning jam, but his two-out single to deep short drove in the tying run in the top of the fifth and preceded consecutive singles by Fraioli, Tom Castigan and Dillon Daine that produced three runs.
“The three runs were great,” said Polonia, whose earned run average was 0.62 coming into the game. “It made me a lot more comfortable.”
“They took advantage of their one scoring opportunity and you’ve got to tip your hat to them for that,” New Canaan coach Mitch Hoffman added. “With two good pitchers like this, you’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities, and they did.”
Polonia retired 11 of the final 13 batters he faced, allowing only two infield singles. He also had two of the Crusaders’ six hits.
“I have declared Randy a freshman again,” Nichols joked. “He will be returning next year.”
Giusti, meanwhile, pitched quite well, save for the four consecutive singles in the top of the fifth.
“I didn’t pitch my best,” Guisti, who walked five and allowed six hits, said. “You can’t let those things (not scoring after the leadoff triple in the fourth) get to you. In the fifth when they scored the three runs, there was no one other than myself to be frustrated with.”
The Rams took a 1-0 lead in the first on singles by Robbie Jones, Zach Smith and Kyle Lavassuer, but left runners on first and third with one out in the third. Nevertheless, for a while it seemed like the one run might be enough.
“At 1-0, I thought it was game over,” Hoffman said.
Considering the pitching matchup, that was not far-fetched.
Alex LaPolice, Zach Smith and Lavassuer each had two hits to lead New Canaan.