WILTON — Six days after being voted his league’s player of the year, and a little over 24 hours after earning the state’s highest individual baseball honor, Staples’ Ben Casparius put on a tour de force performance this afternoon as his own personal exclamation point.
In an effort even the humble Casparius admitted may have been the highlight of his high school career, the Wreckers’ ace allowed just three hits and struck out 14 in a 3-0 win over Wilton in the second round of the Class LL Tournament.
It came after the Warriors had won their second conference title in three years last Friday night.
Casparius, who was named the Gatorade Player of the Year yesterday, referenced a no-hitter against Stamford this season, but then said, “Against a team like that, especially the FCIAC winner, coming to their field where we lost earlier in the year, that’s probably the best I’ve pitched all year, and probably in my life. I had everything working today.”
Depending on how the Wreckers fare in Saturday’s quarterfinals against Westhill, it will go down as either his final masterpiece or a new measuring stick to try and surpass to get his team to the state championship.
“We went up against a real buzzsaw today,” Wilton coach Tim Eagen said. “He was outstanding. We had an opportunity early in the game because he was trying to sneak the fastball by us, but as the game went on he went to the slider, the curveball and the other things, and kind of almost pitched backwards. And he was so much on.”
Casparius affirmed Eagen’s observation, and said it has been part of a changed philosophy.
“This year I noticed everyone is looking for the fastball and that’s when you have to start mixing it up,” Casparius said. “I was lucky today I had everything going for a strike, especially my slider, which I worked on a lot this week. The defense was obviously great. The team looked really great today.”
The Wreckers are the 11th seed and now have a 15-8 record. Their coach, Jack McFarland, said he used a counterintuitive strategy setting up his pitching rotation for the tournament, saving Casparius for today rather than yesterday’s opening round game against Cheshire. It helped having a quality No. 2 starter in Chad Knight.
“You have to get to Saturday,” McFarland said, referring to the quarterfinal round. “We rolled the dice a little bit and saved Ben for Wednesday and it worked out because we felt good about Chad yesterday, and we were playing a senior-laden team today making all the plays and we thought we had to have Ben on this field, and the strategy worked out. Once you get to Saturday you’re really in the tournament.”
With his ace Billy Black finished for the season after undergoing elbow surgery yesterday, Eagen turned to Cole Lipsky today, and was rewarded with a performance that would have kept the Warriors’ season alive on most days. Lipsky allowed just six hits and two earned runs.
“All we ask our pitchers to do is keep us in the game,” Eagen said.
Lipsky did, allowing a run in the second when the Wreckers got just two hits, but took advantage of a pair of walks and an error to take the lead.
Strong defense by Wilton shortstop Dillon Lifrieri and centerfielder Drew Connolly kept the margin close, but the Wreckers scored twice in the fourth when Chris Drbal’s grounder in the hole was knocked down by Lifrieri and then caromed into shallow left field.
Those runs proved frills as Casparius struck out the side in both the fifth and seventh innings. In the sixth the Warriors got a runner on with one out when a third strike eluded the catcher. Collin Kahal followed with a single, but the Wreckers turned an inning-ending double play.
“I told the kids I’m not going to dwell on this,” Eagen said. “We’ve had a tremendous season. Nineteen and five is nothing to be ashamed of, and to win an FCIAC championship. We leave a legacy for the program for the next 10 years.”
Casparius said it was just the second time he had ever defeated Wilton — he played basketball until this year — during his Staples career.
Wilton-Staples is always a hyped-up game,” Casparius said. “It’s fun to come out here like this, it’s a great atmosphere, the state playoffs and it’s great to move on.”
Now after beating the postseason champion, the Wreckers get to travel to Westhill and face the team that won the regular-season title.
“I love DJ,” McFarland said, referring to Vikings coach DJ Mulvany. “It will be a great matchup. I love when the FCIAC wins. That makes me happy. I’m rooting for all the FCIAC teams and that will be a great game on Saturday.”