WESTPORT — Given nearly a year had passed and there is now much more at stake, the angle of a championship rematch seemed to be relegated to the background for the most of the participants Wednesday when the Staples baseball team hosted Wilton.
And most everyone admitted the battle to emerge from the logjam and earn a league playoff spot had become the biggest priority.
Yet for one Staples player, payback was very much on his mind, and since it was the one in a position to be most influential in the outcome, the added motivation turned into a positive.
Ben Casparius threw a complete-game, three-hit shutout and was the recipient of the better defensive play in his battle with the Warriors’ Billy Black to lead the Wreckers to a 2-0 victory and provide some slight cushioning to their precarious hold on one of the top eight positions in league play.
While many of his teammates — some of whom were not even on the team at the time — were not focused on last May’s 1-0 loss in eight innings to Wilton in the FCIAC final, Casparius, a two-sport athlete, said the start had added significance.
“Usually I go against pretty good teams and I have the same mentality,” Casparius said. “Even as a basketball player I’ve never beat Wilton in anything. This was a huge statement game for us, a little bit more on a personal level for myself. So I had a really good time to go out today and pitch a shutout. It was on our mindset all week, even though it was not technically a playoff game.”
Casparius also had three of his team’s seven hits as the Wreckers, who started the day tied for seventh place in the league, one-half game ahead of Wilton, won for the fifth time in six games to improve to 9-8 overall and 8-5 in conference play.
“It has taken us a while,” said McFarland, who had to add two sophomores into the lineup because of injuries and move some position players to new spots. “We played a very aggressive schedule in the first 10 games. “We had a meeting when we were 4-7 and said we had to win at least six to be in the conversation. We are playing our best ball at the right time.”
Casparius (2-1) had good location and mixed in an effective slider to strike out 10. He walked just two. He struck out five straight batters until issuing a one-out walk in the seventh, but second baseman Mike Cusa turned a game-ending double play.
“Once they picked up the fastball I had to go to my slider a little more and keep them off balance,” Casparius said. “My command I think was better than last game. “It was definitely my best start of the year. I felt comfortable all seven innings.”
Casparius was also the recipient of better defense — left fielder Chris Drbal went into the fence in the first inning to rob Wilton’s Dillon Lifieri of an extra-base hit — than Black. The junior allowed seven hits and just one earned run, which came after Mike Fanning hit a leadoff single in the sixth and scored on a double by Matt Stone against relief pitcher Ben Rusin.
That provided a timely insurance run after Staples took a 1-0 lead in the second on consecutive singles by Jon Dedomenico and Casparius, followed by a throwing error.
Wilton (9-7, 6-6) got runners to second base just twice and stranded them both.
“Offensively, when you are facing a kid like theirs, you have to cash in when you have an opportunity,” Wilton coach Tim Eagen said. “Now it comes down to pitching and defense, and someone is going to make a mistake, and we made the mistake.”
Eagen praised Black, a junior who is now 3-4, but wished his team was more aggressive offensively.
“(Casparius) was trying to get ahead with the fastball. Hit the fastball,” Eagen said. “Don’t get him into the slider. You are in a load of trouble.”
The loss was hardly fatal to Wilton’s league playoff hopes — seven teams started the day within two games of each other for the final two spots — but with only Darien assured of a league playoff spot and many of the remaining games between contenders — losses now are particularly costly.
“Every game is a playoff game,” Eagen said. “Everything is big.”