WESTPORT — Since arriving as a freshman, Chad Knight has been dubbed The Dark Knight by Staples baseball coach Jack McFarland, after the movie featuring the DCComics Batman superhero. Texts to McFarland inquiring on his starting pitcher for the day have been returned with the logo for the Bat signal.
But when McFarland called on Knight to pitch in relief in the top of the sixth inning of today’s Class LL quarterfinal, with the Wreckers trailing Trumbull, 6-4, the coach was looking for a Mighty Mouse, coming in to save the day.
Knight did his job on the mound, and was part of an offensive effort that saw the first nine batters reach base in the bottom of the inning. Staples scored eight runs and Knight closed out a 12-6 win, finishing a comeback from a four-run deficit.
“It was we knew we had him but it is no good to have him there if you don’t have the lead. He was only a two-inning guy for me today,” said McFarland, who knew he would have limited use from Knight, the ace of his staff, who started Wednesday’s first-round win.
Knight had the first of four run-scoring singles in the decisive sixth inning. Runs also scored on a walk, balk and wild pitch.
Asked if his move from catching to the mound brought added pressure given the Wreckers’ season and the careers of Knight and the other seniors were on the line, Knight said, “No because we have one of the best lineups in the state and and I think that sixth inning kind of proved it right there. We didn’t make an out for nine straight batters. That’s amazing. That’s team baseball. That’s just who we are as a team. Refuse to lose.”
Pressed if he felt the burden of no margin for error to keep the deficit the Wreckers had to overcome manageable, Knight gave a very Chad Knight response.
“Every time I step on the mound I don’t want to give up anything,” Knight said.
Fifth-seeded Staples (23-3), which set a team record for wins, will face No. 1 Cheshire in Tuesday’s semifinals.
The Rams won the teams’ meeting in last year’s quarterfinals.
Eight different players accounted for the Wreckers’ 11 hits and seven drove in runs. And again, they received contributions from all parts of their order. Adam Petro, Charlie Roof and Chris Veneruso each had two hits, while Drew Rogers, Roof and Veneruso drove in two runs apiece.
Rogers’ came on a fifth-inning home run, after Knight drew a leadoff walk, to start the rally from a 6-2 deficit.
Trumbull (15-9), the No. 13 seed, had advanced with an opening round win over Ridgefield followed by a victory over No. 4 South Windsor.
The Eagles struck first, in the third inning, taking a 2-0 lead on Kevin Bruggeman’s home run off Russell Krauss.
The Wreckers tied the game in the fourth against the Eagles’ Justin Nyarady on Veneruso’s two-run single.
Trumbull appeared to break the game open in the fifth, scoring four times. Bruggeman had an RBI single and the Wreckers made uncharacteristic mental and physical mistakes in the field.
“That one bad inning usually knocks you out of it,” McFarland said. “I was a little worried about it because usually you can’t overcome that. We usually don’t throw the ball around. They persevered and grinded those at bats and refused to lose.”
It was a difficult defeat for the Wreckers after seemingly having control of the game.
“We jumped out to the lead and we felt good, we felt confident that we were going to walk out of here and then the sixth inning happened,” Eagles coach Phil Pacelli said. “It kind of snowballed and fell out of control for us. I’m proud of my team. To get to this game is not easy and we gave them a good game. They got the hits when they needed them.”
Now the Wreckers are two wins away from their second state title in three years.
“We’re excited to just get to the semis and just play some new people,” McFarland said. “We don’t care who it is. Get out there with the Cheshires and the Amitys. At this point in the season, all the machinations, they’re gone. You are who you are. There’s going to be no surprises. No holding this kid, no holding that kid. It’s going to be pure baseball and I think we’re ready for it.”