BRIDGEPORT — A Fairfield Warde baseball team that had received little acclaim in a parity-filled season, largely for being consistent in an unspectacular manner, earned the right to have the spotlight to itself Saturday afternoon.
In a flawless performance, highlighted by a strong outing from Hunter Hewitt, their No. 3 starter, the Mustangs won their first-ever FCIAC title in the sport with a crisp 4-0 win over Trumbull at Harbor Yard.
“It’s unreal,” said Hewitt, who allowed just four hits in 5 2/3 innings. “For a Warde team that had never won an FCIAC (playoff) game, and to win the championship, it’s huge.”
A number of walls came tumbling down for the No. 6 Mustangs (15-8), who joined the growing list of lower seeds to win the league title over the last two decades.
Warde had not won a game in the tournament since a consolidated Fairfield High School split back into two schools in 2004.
“As soon as we made it to the sixth seed we set the goal to go all the way,” said Nick Nardone, who retired the final four batters for the save. “We didn’t want to win one, we didn’t want to win two, we wanted to win all three.”
In the Mustangs’ eyes, they also found the perfect opponent waiting for them in the final. Two wins at the end of the regular season were preceded by a three-game losing streak that cost them a higher seed.
In the middle of the slide was a 17-3 loss to Trumbull.
“I know any time you’re beaten 17-3, and it’s kind of a laugher, I told them after the game to watch that and let it motivate you, and it did,” Warde coach Mark Caron said.
Nardone was even more outspoken: “After the loss to Trumbull, which is a hell of a team, we wanted to see Trumbull in the championship. We didn’t want the easy way out. We wanted to see them, you can’t even imagine. Their Twitter comments, their players were talking crap about us. They were getting aggressive. Honestly we’re a better team than them and we showed it today.”
Trumbull coach Phil Pacelli went back to his ace, Colin Keyes, the winning pitcher in the quarterfinals against New Canaan. Keyes lacked his usual command, lasting just 2 1/3 innings.
Caron opted not to go back to Nardone, who got the victory in the first round against Darien, and turned to Hewitt. Caron said he was unhesitant in his decision.
“I know we have three quality starters, and Hunter in his last two starts had not given up an earned run,” Caron said. “He deserved the start and he delivered.”
Hewitt said he knew all along he would be getting the call.
“Coach told me to be ready, that I was going to pitch the big game,” Hewitt said. “This is huge. To be able to come through for my teammates is big for me. They’ve been great to me all year.”
Hewitt said he flourished because he worked to his strengths and conceded his limitations.
“I know that my fastball is not that fast, so I have to locate,” he said. “I have my curveball to rely on and my change up. They rip fastballs. They’re a fighting team so you have to get them with the offspeed.”
Hewitt was well supported. Zach Weinstein made two spectacular plays at third base, including turning a bullet off the bat of the Avery Santos into an inning-ending double play, one of several baserunning mistakes that cost the Eagles, who were playing in their third straight final.
“You see them diving all over the place, making all the plays,” said Pacelli. “It’s not in the cards for you. Give Warde credit. They just flat-out played better than us today. We only had four hits but I felt that we swung the bats better than that. But it was right at people.”
Tom Luckner, who made a great diving catch in the outfield, delivered the key hit, a two-run triple, as the Mustangs scored three times in the second. Weinstein had a sacrifice fly in the inning, while C.J Sabella drove in an insurance run in the seventh after Mike Foley, who had earlier tripled, hit a double.
“We’ve been under the radar, and that’s fine,” Caron said, “and now we’ve earned respect.”