A 12-1 loss to Staples a week ago halted in the fifth inning because of the 10-run rule was considered an early crossroad by Wilton coach Tim Eagen. How would a team targeted because of its status as defending league champion, despite graduating a number of starters and its top three pitchers, respond?
“That was the big question mark,” Eagen said.
Eagen has received the answer he hoped for. Following today’s 10-4 decision over Fairfield Warde, the Warriors have won four straight games to improve to 7-2.
“This team, from where they started out to where they seem to be going now, they’re starting to earn everything that they get,” Eagen said. “We’ve won swinging the bats pretty well and playing pretty good defense behind the pitchers.”
Much of the preseason acclaim the Warriors received was due to their recent success more than their returning personnel. There were many ‘ifs’ in the equation. That served as motivation, for the younger players as well.
“We knew coming into the season that we would have a lot of personnel changes but throughout the season so far the younger kids have stepped up, the progress they’ve made throughout the past couple of weeks has been tremendous,” said catcher Jack DiNanno, one of the veterans. “The last couple of games the bottom of the lineup has been producing a ton of runs and that’s what we need during the season. It’s looking good right now but there’s still a long way to go. Anyone in this league can beat anyone. That’s what we know and that just means during the season every game everyone is getting better. We need to as well.”
Pitching, the team’s greatest strength a year ago, was an uncertainty this spring, but as the season reaches the midpoint it is a big reason why the Warriors are currently tied for the fourth-best record in league play. Ryan Gabriele, who was hit hard in the loss to Staples, bounced back today and gave up just two earned runs over six innings against Warde.
That followed a complete-game four-hitter by Brendan Skewis on Friday in a 3-1 win over St. Joseph, which was unbeaten and averaging 13 runs a game. And on Saturday, Kyle Phillips threw another complete-game four-hitter against Brookfield.
“The past couple of games we’ve had great pitching,” DiNanno said. “Skewis during the St. Joseph game was unbelievable. I didn’t have to do anything. I just set up where coach wanted it and he put it there. He’s a really unique pitcher. He doesn’t throw that hard but he hits his spots. Ryan Gabriele, we had three great pitchers last year and he didn’t see a lot of time but right now he’s our ace. Kyle Phillips. It’s all coming together.”
Eagen said there has been one constant in the Warriors’ wins.
“Gabriele pitched against Staples and pitched from behind all game,” Eagen said. “We struggle when we’re pitching from behind. Everyone will when they are pitching 2-0, 3-1. Kids are sitting on fastballs and you’re sitting on disaster, but in Skewis’ case and Phillips’ case the other day they were ahead of every batter almost. Pitching is so vital for survival in this league and you didn’t know how your pitching was going to come around. We had Gabriele at No. 1, but Skewis has been a big surprise in a very positive way for us. Phillips is just a steady guy. Whenever you need him you can use him.”
Wilton’s outfield is entirely new. But Dillon Lifrieri, who had two hits and four RBIs against Warde, is back at shortstop and Phillips and Cole Judelson were both in the starting lineup for last year’s 2-1 win over Ridgefield in the FCIAC final.
The offense has been another source for optimism.
“Some of the kids are starting to break out and maybe they didn’t get enough at bats because you throw in the batting cage in the gym and you don’t get a lot of live pitching like you’re getting in games, so it has taken a while to get going offensively,” Eagen said. “Now they are getting into a groove.”
Eagen said the most important part of the fast start is getting closer to the 10 or 11 conference wins he feels are needed to secure a spot in the league playoffs.
“We are just trying to get in there because history has shown once you get in there you can win,” Eagen said.
Top Of The Order
1. Darien (9-2, 6-1). The Blue Wave have received great pitching but also have one of the most consistent lineups.
2. Staples (7-2, 6-1). Harry Azadian got his second straight Monday win to help the Wreckers rebound after two losses in three games.
2. Wilton (7-2, 4-2). The Warriors have a big game on Wednesday at Darien.
4. Ridgefield (6-3, 4-2). The Tigers are another top team that has sustained back to back losses in the past week after getting defeated today by Brien McMahon.
5. New Canaan (7-4, 5-2). The Rams have very quietly been making a climb up the standings and got a strong effort today from Zach Lopez in a 1-0 win over Trumbull. They edge out St. Joseph, which has now lost three straight games.