Eight days ago Fairfield Warde was the final overall unbeaten team in the FCIAC, picking up where it left off after winning the conference title for the first time last season.
Three days later the Mustangs were sitting at 7-2 following back to back losses to Darien and New Canaan.
Was the team exposed as a fraud? Hardly. It instead lost to a pair of contenders, just as, the day before Darien, it defeated Staples.
Baseball is the hardest sport for forming long-term opinions because a skilled or hot pitcher can shut you down on any given day. It is extremely rare for a major league team to win two-thirds of its games.
In the FCIAC, that is a 14-6 finish. And right now there are a number of teams capable of reaching that mark. This has been a nice stretch for the league, which again is extremely strong.
There are currently six teams with two or fewer losses in league play, and none of them are Staples, which is coming off a rough 2-3 patch — against strong competition — and is very much in the hunt. Heck, maybe by denying themselves the top seed, the Wreckers can get a fifth to eighth seed, a more enviable spot in recent years from which to win a title.
Darien and Warde have lived up to expectations, New Canaan is the solid contender many of us thought and Trinity Catholic does in fact have the pitching and enough offense to win a title.
We expected Wilton to be solid, but not this good. Its pitching has been absolutely outstanding, putting up historical type numbers thus far.
The Warriors take second place to Norwalk as the biggest surprise. The Bears were not mentioned by anybody in March and suffered their first league loss to Greenwich on Monday. Some think they will flame out over the second half. We shall see.
Meanwhile, what to make of middle class teams like Stamford, Danbury, Ridgefield, Trumbull and Greenwich? They are going to fill at least one spot.
Since it was hard deciding between two players, we are going to have our midseason Player and Pitcher of the Year, plus Coach of the Year. And, in the most fruitless task, we are going to predict the eight playoff qualifiers in order.
Most Valuable Player
Randy Polonia, Trinity Catholic. Polonia is again the league’s best two-way player. He is 4-0 with one save, four complete games, a 0.49 ERA, 31 strikeouts and nine walks. Equally valuable as a shortstop, he is batting .333 as teams pitch around him — he has been walked 10 times, four intentionally.
Most Valuable Pitcher
David Giusti, New Canaan. This award could go to the entire Wilton staff, and there are several other worthy candidates. But Giusti, coming back after being sidelined last year with a broken bone in his lower back, has been magnificent. He is 3-0 and has not allowed an earned run. He has given up just seven hits, with 34 strikeouts and two walks. His complete-game 3-hitter in frigid conditions against Warde last Friday was a masterpiece.
Coach Of The Year
Pete Tucci, Norwalk. I labored on this choice and changed my mind several times with three candidates, including Mike Scott, who has Darien unbeaten in league play, and Wilton’s Tim Eagen. I can’t argue with anyone insistent on either coach. In the end, the Bears are right there with the big boys and have been the biggest surprise. That is the tiebreaker in the veteran Tucci’s favor.
Predicted Order Of Finish
1. Wilton. Pitching wins games, and the Warriors have an abundance of it. Incredibly, they have given up 13 runs in nine games, and more than two just once.
2. Darien. The Blue Wave have outscored opponents by a 74-14 margin on its current seven-game winning streak. Sure, two games were against Central and Harding, but two of the last three came against Warde and Trinity Catholic. We figured the Blue Wave’s turf field would give them an early-season edge, but they have pitching, hitting and defense.
3. Fairfield Warde. The hitting is a concern, but a rotation of Nick Nardone, Reece Maniscalco and John Natoli are going to keep the Mustangs in the hunt for the long haul.
4. Staples. The guess here is that the Wreckers’ 2-3 stretch will eventually look like a bump in the road. They scored just eight runs in those five games. There are too many bats for that to continue.
5. New Canaan. The Rams are one of those teams that is just going to keep rolling along in solid but unspectacular fashion. This is a senior-laden unit getting contributions from underclassmen. Catcher Zach Smith is having an outstanding season.
6. Norwalk. The Bears have a brutal second-half schedule so we are expecting a little slip in the standings, but no free-fall.
7. Trinity Catholic. The 1-2 punch of Polonia and Anthony Hoegemann will get the Crusaders into the tournament. This is the type of team that gets hot and surprises in the playoffs.
8. Stamford. This is a tossup spot, but the strong performance so far by Shawn Urbano will give the Knights enough pitching to get into the playoffs under first-year coach Rit Lacomis.