NEW CANAAN — Robbie Jones getting a win on senior day would have been a routine accomplishment two months ago, but this has been no ordinary season for the ace of the New Canaan baseball team’s pitching staff.
Jones suffered a non-baseball related injury in March that kept him sidelined until last week, when he returned to the lineup as a designated hitter.
Jones, who has committed to play next year at UConn, made his first appearance on the mound today and further bolstered the Rams’ postseason hopes. Jones allowed just three hits over five innings and hit a first-inning home run that set the tone for a 5-0 victory over St. Joseph.
“It felt great, it felt like things were back to normal almost,” Jones said. “Today I had all my pitches. My changeup was probably working the best it has ever worked in two years. The curveball was there sometimes, but the changeup really got me through.”
Jones struck out six and walked two batters, both in the second inning, when the Cadets loaded the bases but were unable to push a run across.
Patrick Metzger and Spencer Williams each pitched an inning of relief to close out the game.
“Today was basically his day one,” New Canaan coach Mitch Hoffman said of Jones. “He was going to be on a pitch count but I didn’t tell him what that would be. We are going step by step because we have a number of games left.”
The Rams (13-5, 11-3), the runaway winner for surprise team in the league based on modest preseason expectations, have more tangible and important goals in mind. Today they clinched a berth in the FCIAC Tournament and remained a game behind Westhill for the top seed, which begins a week from today. The two teams meet on Wednesday in the final league game of the regular season.
The addition of Jones to a lineup that has hit the ball well but could use some additional pitching depth has already bolstered the optimism in the dugout. Jones said he has been dealing with a melting pot of emotions the past month.
“I’ve been anxious,” Jones said. “A little nervous too because I want to lead the team, but the team kind of led me. When I was kind of on the outside looking in, what they were doing and how much success they were having. When I came back they kind of brought me up, like I was a freshman almost. Because that is what it felt like, brand new.”
After retiring the side with two strikeouts in the top of the first, Jones hit a long home run over the rightfield fence in the second inning for the only run he would need. Jones was intentionally walked his final three times up.
Matt Burger and Mike Pelli had RBI singles in the third and Frankie Ramppen, who along with Thomas Diamond had two hits, came through with a two-run single in the sixth.
But the story was Jones, who when asked to grade his performance gave himself an eight on a scale of 1-10.
“I definitely mixed very well,” Jones said. “I’m just one piece of the puzzle. The staff is great, we all have such great chemistry and joke around.
Hoffman also graded Jones highly.
“He did better than expected for me,” Hoffman said. “It’s senior day, plus the emotion of your first start. I couldn’t ask for more. And it’s not easy to be the guy pitching and hitting.”
St. Joseph (6-11, 4-10) needs two wins to qualify for the state playoffs.
The Rams had lost three of their previous four games and travel on Monday to Ridgefield, which started this week tied for first place.
Asked the importance of seeding in a year with many capable contenders, Hoffman said, “The FCIAC is so good, whoever we play is going to be tough. What we have to do is go out there and play our game, hopefully we win those games and then whoever we get, we get.”