BRIDGEPORT — Mat DeRienzo was not surprised by his game-winning hit that delivered the Trumbull High School baseball team to its third straight FCIAC championship.
It was what happened next.
“I had no idea I was going to get mobbed by my teammates,” the junior first baseman said, after his bases-loaded single in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted the fifth-seeded Eagles to a 5-4 win over No. 8 Greenwich.
Welcome to Baseball Heroism 101.
“I thought I had hit into a double play at first,” said DeRienzo, who finished with two hits.
Wednesday night’s win at Harbor Yard mirrored Trumbull’s season, a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows that is back on an upswing.
“We have a lot of trust in each other,” said Avery Santos, who pitched the first seven innings for Trumbull (16-6) and reached on a dropped fly ball in centerfield prior to DeRienzo’s base hit. “We’re never down. We are always believing we are going to get on base, we’re going to score.”
That belief was tested exactly a week earlier, but first a little background. The Eagles hardly looked like one of the touted preseason-teams-to-beat when they opened the season with a 5-3 mark.
They weren’t playing poorly, but then again they hardly looked like contenders in an FCIAC sea full of them. Then came a stretch of nine wins in 10 games that looked like it would surf the Eagles right into the postseason.
Until last Wednesday. Santos was sailing along with a 4-0 lead over New Canaan heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. Seven runs later, the last four on a walk-off grand slam, and all that momentum came to a grinding halt.
“I think for me it was hard because I was on the mound,” Santos said. “My teammates picked me up.”
The Eagles ended the season with a loss to Staples that cost them a home playoff game. Then came a long holiday weekend.
Trumbull coach Phil Pacelli gave his players Saturday off to clear their heads. When they returned the next day, there was no need for a state of the union address.
“These guys are loosey-goosey,” Pacelli said. “They don’t get caught up in too many things.”
Trumbull opened the tournament on Tuesday by putting together its own seventh-inning rally in a rematch with the Rams, scoring six times for a come-from-behind win.
Trumbull was tied with Greenwich, 2-2, in the sixth inning when the Cardinals (14-8) went ahead with a run on four straight singles, the last by Kyle Dunster, the winning pitcher against top-seeded Staples in the quarterfinals.
But Greenwich lost the chance to break the game open when Trumbull leftfielder Liam Moore threw a perfect strike to the plate to turn Alex LoParco’s shallow fly ball into a double play.
Trumbull went ahead in the bottom of the inning when Moore walked and scored on Jake Levison’s double to left. Colin Keyes’ RBI groundout made it 4-3.
But nothing comes easily in the FCIAC this season. One strike away from a complete-game victory, Santos yielded a game-tying single to Jon Dreher.
“I was just trying to dominate,” Santos said. “I fell short. I’m just happy my team picked me up.”
Trumbull defeated the Cardinals for the FCIAC title two years ago before losing in the final to Danbury last spring.
“The thing I like is a lot of these guys sat on the bench last year,” Pacelli said. “We had a team full of seniors. I’m really proud of them to get back to this point.”
Pacelli is a stickler for details. It shouldn’t be high on the priority list, but given the Eagles’ tradition, an end-of-practice refresher in Baseball Heroism 101 for Saturday’s final might be wise.
Just in case.