STAMFORD — Bottom of the seventh, one out, no one on, trailing 1-0, seven hits over two games in the last 24 hours.
An unenviable situation to say the least, but not hopeless for one team that has been transfixed on an FCIAC championship since losing in the final a year ago.
“I’d be lying if I told you I felt we were going to win at that point but the only thing we could have done was just believe,” said Staples’ Chad Knight, not long after belief had become reality.
Batting against Fairfield Ludlowe’s Connor O’Neill, who had yet to give up a hit through 1 2/3 innings of relief, the Wreckers’ Andrew Moy, a tireless catalyst, delivered a one-out single. One out later, Staples coach Jack McFarland sent Kevin Rabacs in to pinch hit.
“I coached him in football,” McFarland said. “He’s a stud athlete, a two-sport kid. It’s a no-brainer, he’s going to go up there and take his swings. My thinking was if he gets a hit he’s so fast he’ll steal second and boom the door’s open. It goes down.”
Moy stole second, went to third on a wild pitch, and came home when Rabacs — whose father graduated from Ludlowe — delivered a single to right to tie the game at 1-1.
Rabacs indeed stole second and scored after James Damico delivered a base hit on a 3-2 pitch to give the Wreckers an improbable 2-1 win over Ludlowe.
It was Staples’ fourth league title in 11 years and completed a tournament in which the highest seed won every game.
“Kevin had a huge hit before me, Moy got us going so I came in relaxed,” Damico said. “A guy on second you just have to come through, get a single. You know Kevin is fast. Ahead in the count, put a ball in the infield and lets go home. Our lineup has been there. There was never a doubt, it was just a matter of time.”
It was fitting that the Wreckers’ first league title since 2011 was keyed by so many overshadowed players on a talented roster.
— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) May 23, 2019
“We’ve had guys come through all year and when Damico got that hit I couldn’t have been more happy for Jay, for the entire team, for all of Staples, the fans,” Knight said. “It takes a team to win a championship and if that was not the definition of a team win I don’t know what is.”
Of course Knight has been the face of the program, driven always by victory and in particular by the absence of a league title on his resume.
The Falcons (18-5) got to Knight four batters in. Leadoff hitter Derek Tallman was hit by a pitch and eventually scored on a double by starting pitcher Chris Benton.
Knight walked three and threw three wild pitches but he allowed just one more hit in a gutty 110-pitch effort.
“We couldn’t get that hit through,” Ludlowe coach Mike Francese said. “Chad’s a good pitcher. He did a good job of keeping our guys at bay. Hats off to him. We have to swallow this pill and move on.”
McFarland said there was criticism when he did not throw Knight during the teams’ regular-season meeting, a Ludlowe 14-0 run-rule win.
“This was a high-level game,” McFarland said. “Ludlowe threw two high-quality arms at us and Chad was Chad. He brings the gravitas to the mound. He has a little something to him. Everyone talked about the 14-0 game against Ludlowe. Why didn’t you throw Chad. They got Chad tonight.”
Benton, who won the prior meeting, was magnificent. He scattered three hits over 4 2/3 innings before running out of gas. O’Neill, who may be the Falcons’ most underrated player, followed and came so close to closing out the game.
“I think hands-down Connor is one of the best pitchers in our league,” Francese said. “I have total confidence. He’s carried us all year off the mound. He’s got a lot of guts, he’s got good stuff. What I told him is he’s got to shake this one off. We’ve got a lot to play for still. I’d throw hit right back out there again.”
Knight noted that the Wreckers’ 20th win in 23 outings so far was fashioned in a manner similar to most of the previous 19.
“Moy’s been great for us all year, he’s been such a sparkplug, such a good system player,” Knight said. “We are really fortunate to have him and for what he did tonight, getting on base and keeping the train moving. That’s how we’ve scored most of our runs all year. It hasn’t been the home run or extra-base hits. Its been tacking hits on and on and on. For him to continue that inning and give us a chance pays off in the end.”
On a night he had envisioned for four years, Knight unsurprisingly was more philosophical than emotional.
“It also goes to show you how great the game of baseball is,” Knight said. “You can be down, be in what might seem the biggest hole of the year, but in the biggest situation, biggest game of the year you come through and it’s the great team victory. I’m so happy for the team.”