Baseball

Extra-Base Hits: Pitching Key To Westhill’s Fast Start

Bobby Zmarzlak is leading Westhill both in batting average and RBIs. (Photo: Ellie Kravetz)

It was a common five-word addendum by FCIAC baseball coaches after they finished listing the usual suspects as favorites at the start of the month.

Keep an eye on Westhill.

There was a time when the league’s three Stamford schools were consistent contenders and the city was a power base for the sport. But that has changed over time for a variety of reasons. It has been eight years, since Westhill was a runner-up in consecutive years, that one of the trio reached the championship game. The last title was won by Trinity Catholic in 2000.

Is next month the end of the drought? Anyone making definitive statements about the second half of the regular season wasn’t paying attention to the first half. At the same time, why not Westhill?

Why not, indeed.

No team has received better pitching than the Vikings, who are 7-2 because of the depth of a rotation that, if you take out a 6-2 non-league loss to Weston, has allowed just six runs in eight games, with three shutouts.

“We’ll take 4-1 in the FCIAC anytime,” Westhill coach DJ Mulvany said Sunday night, prior to yesterday’s win against Trinity. “I don’t know where teams will be at the end of the season. I don’t know how to stack how we’ve been playing against those teams.”

The uncertainty is justified; in a loaded conference the Vikings so far have played just three teams with winning records. But Mulvany is from the I-can-only-control-my-own-dugout school. And so far he has liked what he has seen.

“We’ve had a tendency the last couple of years, maybe not to get off to the start this year but to get off to a good start and then lose a couple of games in a row and then fall into a tailspin,” Mulvany said. “I’m hoping we can continue to play the good baseball that has put us in this good situation now.”

The Vikings were dealt a blow on the eve of the season when one of their top starters, Leo Socci, suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Then they lost John MacDonald, who suffered a bad blister in a 1-0 loss to Wilton in the conference opener. He has not pitched since.

Those would be crippling blows for most teams. Not for the Vikings, who have received strong starts from Michael Lisinicchia and Blake Newcomer and great work out of the bullpen from Hunter Semmel.

“It has been awesome,” Mulvany said. “It makes you question how special we could have been with Leo healthy, but these guys have taken it upon themselves to pick up the slack and for Leo when they’re out there. While we hate the fact we lost Leo, we certainly have the talent and depth to hopefully keep overcoming that.”

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The offense, especially from the top half of the lineup, has been solid. Bobby Zmarzlak is batting .500 and is tied with Lisinicchia for the team lead with 9 RBIs. Dean DePreta has played well at shortstop to fill the void left by Johnny Spoto’s graduation. Anthony Frangiose has nearly a .450 on-base percentage.

The Vikings spent the offseason splitting time between Bobby Valentine’s Sports Academy and working with school trainer Ali Knott on strength and conditioning.

Anthony Frangiose beats out a single last week against Norwalk. (Photo: Ellie Kravetz)

“I know how hard we worked and how hungry the guys have been,” Mulvany said. “If their hard work is a reflection of our success so far than I am not really surprised.”

The remainder of the schedule is challenging, but Mulvany said he has been impressed with how his players have so far handled success.

“We can’t afford to be cocky because we had a little reality check after the Norwalk win with Weston, and they always play us tough,” Mulvany said. “We would never overlook a team like that but we went there and got our butts kicked a little bit. We’re not cocky but we are playing with confidence now, which is great.”

Top Of The Order

1. Ridgefield (9-1, 6-1). The Tigers have been getting great starting pitching and the offense has been consistent.

2. New Canaan (8-1, 6-1). Everyone kept waiting for the Rams to stumble. They finally did yesterday against Trumbull, but we have reached the point it is time to concede they are more talented than anyone expected.

3. Westhill (7-2, 5-1). The Vikings so far have the best pitching staff in the league. That bodes well for the present and future.

4. Norwalk (7-3, 5-1). Starting midweek the Bears hit their most difficult stretch, which could shape their playoff seeding — assuming this year we can guarantee a playoff spot for anyone.

5. Danbury (7-4, 4-3). You can make a strong case for five teams in this spot. The Hatters get the nod because they are the hottest of the bunch — and have quality wins.