FAIRFIELD — After opening the season with four straight losses and a 2-6 start, the Fairfield Ludlowe baseball team last season literally slugged its way back into the playoff races. They won five straight games by scoring 69 runs.
The Falcons earned a spot in the FCIAC Tournament, got a win and then went 11 innings with state power Amity before suffering a 2-1 loss in the opening round of the Class LL Tournament.
That was a rare game when pitching kept Ludlowe in the game. Coach Mike Francese considered that an end point to a chapter, not the book.
“Last year we were struggling to find our pitching staff and seeing who would step up,” Francese said. “We had a lot of new guys. We struggled to have guys throw consistent strikes so it was always a battle game to game. We did put up runs but we allowed a lot of runs. We finished strong and that was one of our goals.”
Ludlowe has picked up where it left off this season, and pitching has been one of the primary strengths. The Falcons improved to 4-0 after Monday’s 4-3 11-inning win over Danbury. They overcame a 2-0 deficit after a half inning by allowing just one run the rest of the way.
“We had some really good performances by our guys we have back this year,” Francese said. “Most of our starting lineup in the field and most of our guys stepping up as pitchers were relievers last year. They are getting starts and they are producing right now and throwing strikes, which is great to see.”
That was never more evident than Monday. After James Delmiche started and went five innings, Connor O’Neill allowed one run and one hit over three innings and Chris Benton walked four but did not allow a hit over the final three innings.
“So far we’ve gotten good starts in every game,” Francese said. “We’ve been using Delmiche, Chris Benton, and Connor O’Neill normally would be a starter. We’ve been using him as a long reliever type guy and he’s just been awesome. He’s come in and shut down situations, going in there and attacking the zone. He has so much confidence on the mound. It’s a lot of fun to see him go out and perform like that.
“Chris Benton, we use him as a starter and a reliever. His ability to come back from throwing 20 pitches one day and coming back and throwing as a starter or long reliever has been great. It really does come down to guys being able to recover. With the pitch-count rules it’s tough. You have to work guys in and out around the pitch count. They may tell me that they’re ready to go but I have to be cognizant of their health and taking care of their arms. So far we have mixed and matched well.”
The Falcons are averaging eight runs, which only seems low because of the football-type numbers they put up a year ago.
“We’ve had timely hitting,” Francese said. “We’ve had some situations where we have to move runners over in situations and that’s been accomplished. Now it is just a matter of getting guys comfortable and getting through the season. Game to game it’s a battle. It doesn’t matter who you play. Everyone’s gunning to beat each other and you’ve got to be prepared for everything.”
The league thus far appears to be as deep as ever, with some teams that appeared to be penciled for the middle of the pack off to hot starts. It is early, but Francese believes the manner in which the Falcons are winning bodes well for the future.
“I’ve told the players they are showing they can win the close games, which is key so when you get into the playoffs, and our goals are to get into the FCIAC tournament and the state tournament, we can show our character and fight. I go into every season knowing that my kids are going to compete and we’re going to battle through whatever we have, whether we’re down in a game or up in a game we’re going to battle and try to win as much as we can and be there at the end. They got the experience last year of winning a game in the FCIAC and battling Amity in the state tournament. They are ready to take that next step.
Top Of The Order
1. Ridgefield (4-0). The Tigers are off to a great start despite graduation losses, and Saturday’s win over Amity likely earned them their No. 1 ranking in the latest state poll.
2. Fairfield Ludlowe (4-0). The Falcons are becoming masters of the walkoff hit. They are actually batting .1,000 if you count one that clinched a mercy-rule win.
3. Staples (3-1). The Wreckers are off to a good start and Chad Knight is wielding a hot bat, with two home runs, six RBIs and his 100th career hit.
4. Trumbull (4-1). The names change but the Eagles seem to be major players in the league race.
5. St. Joseph (1-1). Not much to go by but the Cadets have had postponements that are setting themselves up for some busy weeks. It is early but Westhill (4-0) and Brien McMahon (3-1) after one week look like early sleepers to watch.