The Wilton baseball team has just two players remaining from 2017, when it won the FCIAC championship. Graduation has sapped the program of experience.
Warriors coach Tim Eagen admittedly was uncertain what to expect three weeks ago, and whether this was going to be a rebuilding year.
“I didn’t know because we were so young and lost so many people from the year before,” Eagen said. “I knew I had some talented young kids but when you go from a younger program to a varsity program, with the learning curve you don’t know how they’re going to accept varsity playing. So far they’ve done very well.”
That is an understatement. The Warriors are off to a 5-0 start. Along with Fairfield Ludlowe they are the last remaining unbeaten team in the league. They got their biggest win on Friday, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to defeat Westhill, which was undefeated at the time, 3-2.
“They are loving it,” Eagen said. “When they beat Westhill it was like they won a championship. That’s how much respect we have for Westhill.”
So far everything has worked right for Wilton. Eagen threw Mike Angerame, a senior making his first appearance, against Vikings ace Montana Semmel.
“He’s a lefty junkballer,” Eagen said. “I told him just keep us in the game and we will find a way to win. And he did that. He went 5 1/3 and gave up two unearned runs.”
The pitching staff, admittedly still a long-term question mark for Eagen, is off to a good start. Ethan Leinberger is the ace, followed by Drew Phillips, the second baseman and one of the team’s top hitters. Eagen said the rest of the staff is comprised of sophomores and unproven juniors.
“We don’t have any of those big power pitchers,” Eagen said. “We have offspeed pitchers. We have to hit spots, we can’t walk kids and we have to give teams three outs an inning if we are going to be successful. So far we’ve been doing that.”
Catcher Cole Judelson, who will play next year at the University of Tampa, is a veteran presence from the title team and a calming influence for the pitchers. Another senior, Chris Tienken, had two run-scoring hits against Westhill, including the game-winner.
The starting sophomores have made an impression on Eagen so far, led by third baseman John McMahon, who is also the team’s closer. Chris Drummond and Sam Strazza are two other key first-year players.
“We lost a lot and had to replace them with young but talented kids,” Eagen said. “When I talked to them early in the year I told them it would take them some time to get used to that type of playing and that type of baseball that these kids hadn’t played before, and they are getting there faster than I anticipated.”
The Warriors are a week away from getting back a key impact player: Kyle Phillips, who was injured during football season and had to sit out basketball season. Eagen said Phillips, a senior, has started taking batting practice and will be a designated hitter when cleared. Eagen is hopeful Phillips will be able to return to the field next month.
“We’ve got tremendous chemistry this year,” Eagen said. “I’m really pleased with the leadership. Cole and Kyle are the holdovers from the championship team and they are showing the others the way.”
We will know more about Wilton on Thursday night. They will have played Staples and St. Joseph, two league and state title contenders.
“I say right away that I’ve been around long enough to know the bounces can go the other way,” Eagen said. “In another week and a half we can be 5-5. That’s just the way the league is. Of all FCIAC sports baseball, from top to bottom, is the most competitive. When I met with the team at the beginning of the year the captains talked and they wanted to have a great locker room and so far they really have. Some years you’re a manager because you have better teams that have played and you’re always a coach. This year I am doing more coaching than I’ve done to teach them the ways of the FCIAC. So far, so good. They are a fun bunch to coach.”
Top Of The Order
1. Staples (6-1). The Wreckers have won in every manner possible and possess the league’s most well-rounded lineup.
2. Fairfield Ludlowe (6-0). The Falcons so far have proved to be more than just a power-hitting team. Wednesday’s game against Ridgefield, possibly facing Matt DeLuca, is circled on the schedule.
3. Ridgefield (6-1). A seven-run loss to Trinity Catholic should end up being the most shocking outcome of the season, but the Tigers did a good job overcoming a week full of distractions.
4. St. Joseph (4-1). The weather has prevented the Cadets from developing a rhythm. Only one team has played fewer games.
5. Wilton (5-0). The Warriors are coming off a quality win over Westhill. We learn more the next three days, with games against Staples and St. Joseph.