WESTPORT — Staples righthander Carter Kelsey wasted little time in showing this afternoon he was going to be tough to hit during the Wreckers’ season-opener against FCIAC baseball rival Darien, as he promptly used his riding fastball to strike out the side in the first inning.
Yet as impressive as the opening inning was, Kelsey’s effort just kept getting better.
By the time six innings were completed, the 6-foot-4 Kelsey totaled 12 strikeouts and had a no-hitter going.
Though he didn’t pitch the seventh, Kelsey happily watched left-hander Matt Spada fan three straight batters, completing a dazzling debut for the Wreckers.
Kelsey and Spada combined on a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts, Justin Lessing had two hits and two RBIs and Alex Oppenheimer homered for Staples in its 6-0 season-opening win over visiting Darien.
Displaying a fastball that consistently reached 90 miles per hour, Kelsey, a senior, allowed only two base runners in six innings — both of whom were hit by pitches. Ahead in the count throughout, Kelsey also showcased an effective slider.
“I felt really good out there today, when you have such a good defense behind you, it’s such a good feeling as a pitcher,” Kelsey said. “The guys behind me backed me up and my job is to try and throw strikes and not try to give them free bases.”
A member of Staples’ FCIAC and Class LL championship team in 2019, the Seton Hall-bound Kelsey has focused on sharpening his control the past two years. Pounding the strike zone with his powerful fastball, which reached 92 miles per hour today, Kelsey did not issue a walk.
“It’s 100 percent mental,” Kelsey said of working on his control. “I worked on my mental game during the offseason. I put in so many hours of work on that. That has been a huge difference-maker for me. Just throw the ball over the plate and keep it simple is what I tried to do.”
With Kelsey at 99 pitches following six innings, Staples coach Jack McFarland opted to insert Spada, a junior, to close out the game.
“We could have sent him out there, but he would have needed three, quick-contact outs – it just wasn’t worth it,” McFarland, said referring to the 110-pitch rule. “Not in Game 1 with the season starting.”
With two outs in the sixth inning, Kelsey’s glove hand cramped a bit, prompting a visit by Staples’ trainer. He took a few warm-up pitches, then retired his final batter of the game on a fly ball to center field.
“I stretched it out a bit and it feels fine now,” Kelsey said of his left hand.
Karson Drake, a right-hander, got the start for the Blue Wave. After getting through a shaky two-run first inning, Karson settled in and pitched 4 2/3 solid innings over all.
“We were in a tight ball game late, so that’s all we can ask for, that our pitchers give us a chance,” Darien coach Mike Scott said. “Unfortunately, the offense wasn’t there for us today.”
A young team with very few players on its roster from its 2019 squad, Darien is building chemistry.
“We’re still figuring out what the make-up of the team is,” Scott said. “All of these guys were playing JV or freshmen two years ago. We have the components to have a successful season though. If this is the worst game that we play all year then we’ll be fine.”
After Kelsey struck out the side in order in the top of the first inning, the Wreckers struck for two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Outfielder JW Fitzgerald led off the inning with an infield single off Drake, then Oppenheimer, a shortstop, reached on an infield error. Brennan Herold walked and Lessing followed by lining a two-run single to leftfield, giving Staples a 2-0 lead.
“I was just trying to put the bat on the ball,” Lessing said. “Coach speaks a lot about doing things for the program, swinging for the program and how everything is for the name on the front of the jersey. That’s what I tried to do — put the team up.”
Following the opening inning, Drake pitched three scoreless innings, then yielded a home run to leftfield to Oppenheimer in the fifth and Staples seized a 3-0 lead. Righty Jake Horowitz relieved Drake with two outs in the fifth inning.
In the sixth inning. off Darien’s third pitcher of the day, the Wreckers added three more runs, one of which was the result of an infield error and another a wild pitch. Lessing doubled in the inning and Fitzgerald hit a run-scoring single.
“This lineup will keep coming at you, 1-9 we can hit,” Lessing said. “It was just an all-around great day.”
Lessing marveled at Kelsey’s pitching performance.
“It’s awesome when you can watch a guy dominate like Carter did,” Lessing said. “Especially against a great team like Darien.”
McFarland said his squad is playing the season with last year’s seniors in mind.
“We dedicated this season to our 2020 seniors, who didn’t get a senior year,” said McFarland, who credited CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini and FCIAC commissioner Dave Schulz for organizing the spring season. “I wake up every morning and think about those kids, who didn’t get a chance. Just being out here and playing was my big thing today.”