FAIRFIELD — The coach cautioning his players to hydrate properly if they are going to be dancing a lot at prom because there is a game the following day. The outspoken designated hitter deciding on which part of his blue-dyed beard, the result of a preseason promise, he would shave off tonight.
Welcome to your average day with the Fairfield Ludlowe baseball team.
That was the scene late this afternoon at Kiwanis Field, after the Falcons had advanced to the Class LL quarterfinals after an 8-2 win over Simsbury.
“We’ve got some fun guys here,” Ludlowe coach Mike Francese said. “A lot of personality and a lot of character. They play better when they’re relaxed. The more fun we’re having it bodes well for our team.”
Today was pure ecstasy. The Falcons scored four times in the first inning, three pitchers scattered seven hits and the defense was outstanding.
“That was one of our best games, if not the best game, we’ve played all year,” Francese said. “We had all facets working for us. This is when you want to peak so hopefully we just continue to peak.”
The sixth-seeded Falcons (20-6) will either host Darien or travel to Southington, pending tomorrow’s result, for a quarterfinal game on Saturday.
Ludlowe’s latest win came a week after it was on the brink of a 1-0 win over Staples for the FCIAC championship. But two late hits by the Wreckers allowed them to come away with a 2-1 decision.
Francese and his players agreed as difficult as that defeat was, rebounding for the state playoffs was not an arduous task.
“Last Thursday was rough,” said Vince Camera, the designated hitter with his beard shaded to a school color. “You’re so close. It’s baseball, it happens. You give up a couple of hits. You really want that moment but it is something you look past. There’s nothing you can do about it now so you just have to make sure you keep playing great baseball so you don’t have that feeling again.”
Ludlowe opened the Class LL Tournament yesterday with a win over town rival Fairfield Warde. Against the 22nd-seeded Trojans, the Falcons pounced early, batting around in the first inning. Derek Tallman hit a leadoff single and was sacrificed into scoring position by Brian Howell. Camera singled to left to drive in the first run. Chris Benton reached on an error and Jamie Flink hit a line drive that struck Simsbury pitcher Pete Phillips on the elbow. The play loaded the bases and forced Phillips from the game.
Luke Benneche came in to pitch and gave up an RBI single to Greg Calabrese and two-run base hit to Thomas Stasko, making the score 4-0.
“It’s huge. When you put four runs up in the first inning, that’s big for our guys,” Francese said. “It gets everybody going, it gives our pitchers confidence to just go up there and pound the zone and when you’re pitching and playing with the lead it relaxes you even more.”
James Delmiche, the most overlooked regular on Ludlowe’s staff despite now having six wins, had another strong outing. He gave up two runs — one unearned — in the last of his five innings. Delmiche gave up six hits, struck out five and walked two.
“We’ve got a lot of pitching,” Camera said. “Everyone thought that was going to be a weak spot but we’ve had strong pitching so we are set up nicely.”
Three straight singles led to two more runs by the Falcons in the third. Howell had a base hit to drive in a run and Camera followed with a sacrifice fly.
Jack Vogel had an RBI single in the fourth and Calabrese followed with another in the sixth to close out the scoring for the Falcons.
Matt Micinilio and Connor O’Neill each pitched an inning in relief, leaving the Ludlowe staff well positioned for the remainder of the tournament.
The Falcons’ defense was the strongest part of their game. Howell (second base), Vogel (shortstop) and Calabrese (third base) made a number of great plays. Tallman almost came up with the best in centerfield, but his Willie Mays, over-the-back impersonation on a deep fly by Benneche was spoiled when the ball popped out of his mitt.
“You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself because everyone you play now is a great team but it’s nice to know you’re one of those teams playing its best baseball now,” Camera said.
Camera dyed his beard blue, a promise he made if Ludlowe finished 15-5 or better during the regular season. He now is taking off a different piece after each game. His chin was cleanly shaved after the Warde game. Another piece will be removed tonight.
Camera said he is not shaving any more off for prom, after which the Falcons hope to keep dancing on the field when play resumes Saturday.
“This is fun. Winning is fun,” Francese said. “I want to spend as much time with these guys as possible because 15 seniors are leaving and they’ve been a great group to have. I want us to be playing all the way to the end.”