TRUMBULL — You want the definitive quote of the FCIAC baseball season? It was delivered by New Canaan coach Mitch Hoffman Tuesday afternoon, moments after his team’s 6-3 loss to St. Joseph.
Hoffman could have been speaking for a dozen of his colleagues not named Jack McFarland, jockeying to qualify for the FCIAC Tournament, when he said, “Just get me in, I don’t care who we play. There’s nobody that impressive that I feel we can’t beat. Just get me a ticket to the dance.”
Just get me a ticket.
With only nine days left in the regular season, teams aren’t worrying about whom they want to avoid being matched against. Even one of the top four seeds, which earns a first-round home game, has gone from being highly coveted to a nice bonus.
Just get me in.
Take a look at the standings. Is there any team currently in one of the top eight spots that can be dismissed? Can anyone not envision a Ridgefield or Westhill, two schools not on the preseason radars, getting hot during championship week? It is not like there hasn’t been precedent.
Tuesday’s loss dropped the Rams into a tie for eighth place in the league standings. You think McFarland wants to open the playoffs in two weeks at Staples with New Canaan coming to town?
“This is like any other year,” St. Joseph coach Jim Chaves said after Tuesday’s win. “If you get in, you have a chance to win.”
New Canaan and St. Joseph, both defending state champions, started the day with four league losses, closer to Ridgefield in the eighth spot than Staples at the top.
Both teams possess too much talent to have to sit a week before the state playoffs, but inconsistency has taken away their comfort margins.
The Rams (11-5, 9-5 FCIAC) opened the season winning eight of their first nine games, but since have gone 3-4. There are no glaring or embarrassing losses, but their early traction needs to be rediscovered.
“I’d like to catch a hot streak,” said Hoffman, who has a now even-more-important game on Wednesday against rival Darien. After a bye, the Rams’ final week of the regular season features two of three games against teams also clawing to earn a playoff spot.
“We just haven’t been able to string it together,” Hoffman said. “I hope it doesn’t get strung together when it’s too late.”
The Cadets (9-6, 9-4) opened the season with three straight losses and have been battling back since. They may have the easiest remaining schedule of the contenders, but easy is such a relative term this year that it should probably be erased from future conversations.
St. Joseph won on Tuesday despite just three hits, capitalizing on three errors. It was a reversal from 24 hours earlier, when it committed five errors in a 5-0 loss to Staples.
New Canaan starter Alex LaPolice retired the first nine batters before a walk and an error helped the Cadets score twice in the fourth. Two more errors in the fifth helped the Cadets break the game open, with Ismael Herrera delivering a key two-run single as part of a 3-RBI day.
“Errors killed us,” Hoffman said. “We out-hit them today but we just didn’t capitalize on their mistakes.”
Nick Williams held the Rams to just five hits. Only one run was earned.
“LaPolice was throwing really well,” Chaves said. “I was thinking again if we were going to win it would be a 1-0 or 2-0 game. We were not getting very good swings on LaPolice early in the game. For Nick to pitch zeroes with him for that long was a big lift for the team.”
The Cadets, who avoided three straight home losses, travel on Wednesday to Trinity Catholic but will be fortunate to avoid Randy Polonia, the Crusaders’ ace, who pitched on Monday.
“We knew this was a big game for us,” said Williams. “New Canaan is a good team and you have to play your A game. It was a big game for the standings. I didn’t have my best stuff but it is a good feeling to come out when you don’t have your best stuff and everyone else picks you up.”
New Canaan makes the short bus ride to Darien, which is currently tied for second place but, given the nature of the rivalry, might provide the perfect bounce-back opportunity for the Rams.
“I’d rather it be Darien than another opponent,” Hoffman said. “I don’t want to say it’s a must win but it’s a good day to play baseball.”
Just get me in.
You’ve heard those words often the last two weeks. That me be the one aspect of this season that isn’t going to change.