Baseball

Midseason Baseball Report: Pitching Giving More Teams Chance For View From The Top

Peter Marren and the Darien baseball team hope to celebrate a second straight regular-season title next month. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

Things you will never again see in a preview story on this site: an honor roll of 36 players to watch. That is what I did last month, promising to cut myself off at 15, then 20, finally 25, and tacking on another five and another five for fear of omitting a deserving player.

It was getting to the point I felt like I was filling out the field for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Instead, I was unable to draw a line during another year when the talent pool runs deep.

Ten teams currently are above the .500 mark. With just a few exceptions, you could make a strong argument for any of them earning the top seed in the FCIAC Tournament, not that the regular-season title comes with much reward (Danbury is currently in the No. 8 position and as hot as any team in the conference).

Speaking of the Hatters, one opposing coach said today, “They keep battling back. They are like a tic. You have to throw it in the microwave to kill it.

The same can be said of all the contenders. It will be interesting to see how many losses the No. 1 seed has. Darien went 17-3 a year ago and became the rare team to also win the league playoffs.

Baseball is the most difficult sport to predict; much depends on how often you face an opponent’s top pitcher. Then again, more teams seem to have deeper staffs than ever before.

About the only certainty is that a number of teams, due to continued cannibalism as they take turns beating up on one another, will be under-seeded for the state playoffs. Perhaps that will help the FCIAC put a team in a CIAC final for the fifth time in six years.

Danbury has batted its way to five wins in the last six games. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Most Valuable Player

Alex Price, Ridgefield. Collin Lowe came in as the Tigers’ most heralded starting pitcher, and he has not disappointed, with a 2-1 record and 3.00 ERA. Less mentioned was Price, who has been the league’s best pitcher so far. Price has a 4-0 mark, three complete games and a 1.06 earned run average. Price is averaging one strikeout per inning and has done everything you could ask for a starter, including giving the bullpen much-needed rest. Talent runs deep in the FCIAC this spring, but so far Price has made the greatest impact.

Most Underrated Player

Hunter Semmel, Westhill. Westhill’s pitching figured to be and has been its greatest strength. Still, with the loss of Leo Socci to a season-ending injury, that depth was sapped and a player who would be a No. 1 starter for many teams lost. The Vikings have continued to receive strong solid pitching, but it has been enhanced by the emergence of Semmel, who makes the move from first base to provide valuable relief. He has mostly only been needed to close, but can provide middle-inning help and would be a reliable spot starter. Right now using Semmel out of the bullpen has been a great asset, and the team’s arms should be rested for a stretch of eight games in 15 days.

Coach Of The Year

Mitch Hoffman, New Canaan. This is the easiest selection, despite the great work by, among others, Ridgefield’s Paul Fabbri, Danbury’s Shaun Ratchford and Westhill’s DJ Mulvany. There were maybe two or three players familiar to most of the rest of the league coming into the season, and the biggest, pitcher Robby Jones, has been missing due to an off-field injury. The Rams are 8-1 in large part because of a collaborative effort, as Hoffman has been outstanding with his situational moves. The Rams’ schedule is backloaded so it will be interesting to see where they go from here, but no one expected them to be tied for the league’s best record at this point.

Predicted Order Of Finish

Right now there are seven teams with either one or two losses in league play. Three more schools have three losses. Most still have 10 games to play. So consider this a continuation of tradition and an exercise in guesswork more than an educated study. How much would I wager on getting all eight teams right, and in the exact position? Maybe a dime. OK, a nickel.

Any of the eight teams here could finish in the top position. Or not even make the tournament. Leaving St. Joseph out was a tough call in this game of musical chairs. Perhaps it is being overly influenced by the Cadets’ three losses in their last four games. If New Canaan has been the biggest surprise on the positive side, Trumbull, which lost seven of eight games before a win yesterday, has that position on the negative side. But the Eagles have a lot of talent and are a hot streak away from being on the right side of the playoff line.

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Twelve days ago Danbury was 2-3. Then it won back to back games against teams unbeaten at the time. The Hatters have now won five of their last six.

New Canaan has been building up wins, which will be important when you look at its final five games: Darien, Staples, St. Joseph, Ridgefield and Westhill. Those teams are a combined 25-8 right now in league play. The Blue Wave have a similarly difficult stretch.

The overriding factor here has been remaining strength of schedule. The difference between these eight spots could easily be as it is today: two games.

Hand me the darts.

1. Ridgefield

2. Norwalk

3. Westhill

4. Staples

5. Danbury

6. New Canaan

7. Wilton

8. Darien