STAMFORD — Contrary to popular belief, there are no raindances in Staples baseball coach Jack McFarland’s repertoire. No nifty moves to make water from the sky.
Still, when the start of the Class LL baseball tournament was delayed two days by rain, McFarland was unconcerned. You would think it would have been the contrary, seeing what had happened the last time the Wreckers had stepped on the field, and the need to really get the bad taste out of their mouths.
But with the first three rounds now being played on consecutive days, advantage Staples. Advantage to all the teams that have deep pitching staffs, as was evident Thursday afternoon, when sophomore Ryan Fitton threw a complete-game 4-hitter and the 4th-seeded Wreckers rolled to an easy 7-0 second-round win over South Windsor.
“We played a great game,” Fitton said. “We finally hit really well, the defense backed me up, I was in a groove all game. A lot of groundballs and they backed me up. A great team effort today.”
Staples had been as hot as any team in the state, winner of 10 games in a row and 13 of 14 when Wilton’s JT Morin threw a sudden knockout punch, a 2-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts that produced a 1-0 win in eight innings for the FCIAC championship last Friday night.
If there was solace for the Wreckers, it was that they played a great game, but the opposing pitcher was just a little bit better.
“You lose a game like that playing as well as we did, it can go two ways,” McFarland said. “The kids can say no big deal, we’ve won 14 out of 16 ballgames, or they can be devastated. It’s hard to keep kids focused the end of the year, especially in a spring sport. This team is focused.”
A 7-1 win over Hamden in the first round was followed by Thursday’s outstanding effort. Leadoff hitter Nate Panzer had three hits and scored twice, Ben Casparius — Wednesday’s winning pitcher — had two hits, including a three-run homer during a five-run second inning that broke the game open, and Noah Yokoi, behind the plate for the first time in two years, had two hits.
“It is always a confidence booster when you score two or three runs in the first couple of innings,” said Fitton, who improved to 6-2 with his fourth shutout. “You don’t have a lead you worry a little bit. With this lineup you know you’re getting runs. It is always nice getting those first couple of runs.”
Fitton was one of the reasons McFarland was, well not quite, singing in the rain at the start of the week. Despite injuries that would have crippled most pitching staffs, the Wreckers have flourished behind their depth, led in large part by Casparius, Fitton and Mike Fanning, three sophomores who are a combined 15-2.
“The sophomore brigadge has been awesome,” Fitton said with a smile. “They are my classmates, they are my friends.”
They turned a run of bad weather into their team’s advantage. And we haven’t even discussed Marco Latella, who in his first start of the year and first appearance on the mound since opening week, was the hard-luck loser to Morin and Wilton, going the distance and allowing just seven hits.
Latella could be on the mound for Friday’s quarterfinal game with Greenwich, though McFarland wasn’t revealing any of his cards quite yet.
“Kids have stepped up,” McFarland said. “We have a lot of sophomores here, a lot of talented kids.”
Baseball is not a single-elimination-game sport, which is why often it is the hottest and not necessarily the best team that wins high school championships.
So while some may be tempted to start thinking about the final two rounds next week, McFarland was quick to note how the Cardinals, the 21st seeds, were treading water until an 8-7 win over then-No. 1 Southington 26 days ago. That started a streak that has now reached seven wins in nine games.
“It was an innocuous game on a Saturday that got a little blurb in paper,” McFarland recalled. “I don’t think there is a more confident team than we are right now. Something is going to give.”
True, but the Wreckers are not giving away anything these days. For now, Staples-Greenwich is a great storyline.