NORWALK — In a week where weather has wreaked havoc on the entire FCIAC sports schedule, the baseball playoff race still had some semblance of clarity.
Through the continued delays that will push the start of the tournament back from tomorrow’s scheduled opening round to next week, seven of the eight playoff spots were filled. And two schools, Brien McMahon and Wilton, were in control of their destinies, each in need of two wins, including their head to head meeting, to earn the final berth and complete the field.
Mentioned almost as an afterthought was the scenario where an outsider could break into the picture. It was discussed by few, but prominent amongst Fairfield Ludlowe players.
The Falcons entered today against Wilton in the most enviable position to disrupt the neat picture, and an hour after their 8-5 win, with some assistance, had forged a clearer path.
If the Senators defeat Wilton tomorrow in the resumption of Tuesday’s game, which was called due to rain after the sixth inning with the score tied at 4-4, they will qualify for the playoffs. If they lose, the Falcons will get the chance to compete for the title.
Given the dynamics, Ludlowe coach Mike Francese would not have been out of line suggesting his team offer some parting gifts to the Wilton players it will be relying on tomorrow.
“Every game is a must-win from this point on and hopefully we can get some help from Wilton tomorrow and make the FCIACs for the first time in a few years,” said Ludlowe’s Sam Meyers, who pitched 5 1/3 innings to get the win. “We did our part, now we just have to hope we get some help.”
Ludlowe agreed to give up a home game and play at Nathan Hale Middle School, Norwalk’s turf field, to get the contest completed.
Ludlowe (10-10, 8-8 FCIAC) scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to overcome a 3-2 deficit. Jack Knisley had the key hit, a two-run single.
Jack DiNanno’s two-run homer in the sixth made the score 7-5 and brought some life to the Warriors. But Ludlowe’s Vince Camera hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning and Chris Benton retired the side in the seventh for the save.
“It came down to executing today,” Francese said. “We executed. We got our bunts down, we got sac flies, big two-out hits. Sammy came back and did his job and then Ben came in and closed it. We got our job done, now hopefully we get a little help tomorrow.”
Ludlowe opened the season with four straight losses, later had a four-game winning streak and otherwise never had two successive victories and suffered back to back defeats just once. Five times losses followed wins.
“It has been an up and down season,” Francese said. “The hitting has been there all year, the pitching has been up and down, it has been coming on as of late. The defense has been struggling making consistent plays. You just have to keep on working. You can’t give up on yourself, you have to make sure you’re fighting for something and that’s where we are at. We’re here on the last day of the season fighting for a playoff spot, and we still have something to play for in the states regardless of what happens tomorrow.”
Meyers allowed six hits before being lifted.
“We had a huge fifth inning offensively,” Meyers said. “We executed perfectly. We had great at-bats and Knisley with the big at bat to keep the lead our way. Our offense has probably been the strongest part of our team all season.”
Ludlowe has scored 115 runs in its wins.
Wilton (10-9, 6-9) was ranked seventh in the state poll at midseason, but since has gone 1-7, including five straight losses. The downslide, coach Tim Eagen said, coincided with a season-ending injury to Kyle Phillips, who underwent successful shoulder surgery yesterday. Phillips played third base and was the team’s No. 3 pitcher.
The Warriors are hardly a one-person team, and their slump has snowballed in the opposite manner from their early hot streak.
“It hurts the chemistry of the team and that’s what happened to us,” Eagen said. “Now you’ve lost a bat, a third baseman. Now you are relying on sophomores who just aren’t ready for this level of competition.”
Dillon Lifrieri, normally a closer, started and lasted 4 2/3 innings. He did his job but was betrayed by a defense that committed three errors and an absence of hits with runners in scoring position from the offense.
“Dillon pitched good enough to win,” Eagen said. “We just couldn’t score when we had them on the ropes early. It’s the basic plays we are missing that add up. Now you give up one hit and it opens the floodgates. That’s the difference. They are a good-hitting team. But we had that pitcher on the ropes a few times and couldn’t get the big hit. That’s the frustrating thing right now.”