STAMFORD — At the midpoint of the season, Ridgefield baseball coach Paul Fabbri sat one of his senior captains, Mike O’Brien, who was in the midst of a batting slump, for a game against New Canaan. It had to be a humbling experience with the Tigers in the middle of a scramble for league playoff spots.
O’Brien could have sulked. Instead, Fabbri remembers watching proudly as O’Brien, on his own, went out and warmed up the rightfielder.
These are the kind of seemingly innocuous moments we refer to as character building. They can help shape seasons. When Fabbri had to decide whether to start O’Brien or Alex Price for Wednesday’s critical final regular season game against Stamford, who knows if that was a building block in the mental process that led him to call on his senior.
And O’Brien delivered. Allowing just two hits and striking out nine batters in six innings, O’Brien helped lead Ridgefield to a 6-0 win and clinch the No. 5 seed in the FCIAC Tournament, which begins on Friday.
The Tigers will face No. 4 Norwalk.
“I’m thrilled Mike did what he did,” Fabbri said. “He was magnificent today. That’s the best I have seen him pitch.”
The victory completed a season-ending five-game winning streak for the Tigers (14-6, 10-6), who finished tied with Warde for the second-most overall wins in the league, which will help with the state tournament seedings.
“I’m real proud of these guys,” said AJ Fabbri, the coach’s son, who contributed a two-run homer in the fifth inning against Stamford. “We knew before the season there were some leaders out there in front of the pack and the rest of the league was here and there, but we knew last week we had five games and we said we had to go 5-0. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we had guys stepping up every day.”
The Tigers got hits from seven different players. Leadoff hitter John Thrasher maintained a .500 batting average and with three stolen bases now has 32. Fabbri has hit all season and Collin Lowe is a dangerous No. 1 pitcher.
Perhaps because the Tigers are nestled in the northern part of the league they get overlooked.
“We’ve come to the ballpark every day knowing it was do or die,” AJ Fabbri said. “Each game could make or break our season. The saying goes big players step up in big games. We have big time players stepping up.”
Unheralded teams in early April become major players in late May each year, and there is no reason the Tigers cannot assume that role this season.
“It doesn’t matter who’s saying what in the papers, who’s saying what in the blogs and the articles, we just have to come out here and be ready every day,” AJ Fabbri said. “You have to be the best team at 4 every day.”
Just look at this season. Darien is the top seed and Staples failed to qualify for the league playoffs. Heavy money would have been bet the other way.
Warde comes in playing as well as anyone and it is only the No. 7 seed. Reece Maniscalco and John Natoli are as strong a 1-2 pitching punch as there is in the league.
But no team at this point can be discounted, and that includes Ridgefield, which will have Lowe ready to go on Friday.
“We just had to get those few extra hits, those few extra plays and we knew we would be right there,” Paul Fabbri said. “We like our chances going in. We know everyone is going to be good at this point.”
There are no secrets going into the playoffs. The regular season is a grind, the tournament a sprint. The team that plays the best three games in six days wins.
“The fact we have played these high intensity games puts us in a good spot,” Paul Fabbri said.