Baseball

Extra-Base Hits: Staples Has Pieces In Place For Title Runs

Chad Knight is having an outstanding season on the mound and at the plate for the Wreckers. (Gregory Vasil)

WESTPORT — Staples has stormed out to an 11-1 start mostly by steamrolling opponents with a dominant pitching staff and deep offense. One-third of the Wreckers’ games have not been played to completion because of the mercy rule.

So Saturday’s 7-6 win over Brien McMahon was a necessary building block. The Wreckers fell behind in the top of the first, 3-0. The defense committed six errors, not giving pitcher Chad Knight, who on this day was good but not great, any support.

The Senators went back on top in the fifth, 6-5, but Staples tied the game in the bottom half of the inning and won it in the bottom of the seventh on Drew Rogers’ single.

“In the first half we’ve had four five-inning games,” Staples coach Jack McFarland said. “We really need to get some of these games. To be down and come back and win in the bottom of the seventh definitely builds character.”

At 8-0 prior to today’s game against Westhill, the Wreckers are the last remaining unbeaten team in conference play. They have a loaded final 2 1/2 weeks of the regular season, with Ridgefield, Darien, Fairfield Ludlowe and St. Joseph looming.

(Westhill defeated Staples today, 7-2, after publication of this story.)

Still, so far, so good.

Staples coach Jack McFarland is counting on his team to get strong postseason seedings. (Gregory Vasil)

“The regular season is all about just getting seeding for these two tournaments,” McFarland said. “That’s all we’re doing, getting as many wins as we can. We have goals to try and get three home games in the state tournament, to try and play a quarterfinal home game in the FCIAC tournament. That’s what we are playing for now.”

It is hard to pinpoint which aspect of the Wreckers’ game is most impressive. They have a team batting average of .396 and ERA of 1.98.

It is impossible to discuss the Wreckers without first talking about Knight, who is having one of the great senior seasons in league history. He is hitting .629, with 17 RBIs from the leadoff spot. When not getting intentionally walked — which happens regularly — seven of his 22 hits are home runs. One against Norwalk last week was estimated by a Yankees scout to have traveled 474 feet.

Knight has made two changes this season: playing catcher when not pitching and batting leadoff. He came up with two outs and no one on in the 7th Saturday and left McMahon coach John Cross with an impossible decision. Pitch to Knight and risk home run No. 8. Or put him on knowing with his speed he will likely end up stealing and in scoring position. Cross took the latter and wiser option and watched Rogers follow and drive Knight home.

“Chad and I had a discussion in the winter about the construct of the lineup,” McFarland said. “He got walked a lot last year. So we said lets bat you leadoff and if they walk you lets really work on stealing bases and make them pay for walking you. It’s not going to be a free ticket to walk. And you saw (Saturday) you try to avoid him and walk him and you put the winning run on base and he scores the winning run. We’re not going to just let you walk him and get off the hook. We have good hitters behind him.”

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Alex Deutsch is giving the Wreckers a deeper pitching staff. (Gregory Vasil)

Rogers is hitting .351 and is 16-for-16 stealing. No. 3 hitter Zack Zobel is hitting .538, with 19 RBIs. And Harry Azadian, the No. 2 pitcher, is 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA.

Knight, Rogers and Azadian were all members of the 2013 Westport team that reached the Little League World Series and helped Staples win the state title two years ago, so they are accustomed to the spotlight.

“They handle the team,” McFarland said.” Someone leaves the pack they get them right back in line. It’s really unusual and exceptional leadership skills they show. We have a day off because you have to have a mandatory day off and they go and hit. They can’t get away from it. It’s all baseball all the time.”

McFarland said the remainder of the regular season is about seeding and developing the pitching staff. Alex Deutsche came on in relief Saturday and got the win. Russ Krauss started and defeated Norwalk last week.

“We like our staff, we like our lineup,” McFarland said. “We have senior leadership. We have all the ingredients, but baseball is tricky. You’ve got to play that day. Once those games are played, how do you play that day? One bad inning or outing and you’re out.”

Top Of The Order

1. Staples (11-1, 8-0 FCIAC). The Wreckers continue to win games in every manner.

2. Fairfield Ludlowe (11-1, 7-1). The Falcons have won three straight since the loss to Ridgefield and continue to receive strong pitching.

3. Danbury (9-3, 7-2). The Hatters are the league’s hottest team not located in Westport.

4. Ridgefield (9-3, 5-3). Strong pitching, solid defense, timely hitting. The formula has remained a constant for the Tigers.

5. St. Joseph (7-3, 5-2). After a little bit of a slow start and a number of early postponements, the Cadets are starting to heat up.