For all of the hard hit balls that were put into play in Tuesday's Class LL second-round baseball game, one of the softest rollers turned out to be the loudest hit of the afternoon as visiting Fairfield Warde fought past Staples for an 11-8 win in Westport.
With the game deadlocked 8-8, the bases loaded, and two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Warde's Michael Foley hit a seemingly harmless roller up the first baseline. The inning was about to end, and the Wreckers were looking likely to come to bat with the game still tied. However, the ball then caromed off of first base, bounced high into the air and Foley slid safely across the bag as first baseman Ross Poulley adjusted, regained his footing and fielded it. The go-ahead run scored and the play kept Warde's inning alive.
"I'll take that any day," said Foley, noting that sometimes batters are out on hard line drives and sometimes they reach on softly hit balls such as this one. "It's always good to keep advancing."
The No. 15 Mustangs advanced to face another familiar FCIAC foe, No. 10 Trumbull, in the June 6 quarterfinals. Warde defeated Trumbull for its first FCIAC championship May 30.
A two-error play on another grounder to the right side, off the bat of Giacomo Brancato, led to two more runs and all but sealed the fate of second-seeded Staples. The Wreckers were retired in order in the bottom of the seventh as Warde pitcher Billy Money closed out the win.
"I think (Warde) made a couple more plays than we did and that was the difference in the game," Staples coach Jack McFarland said.
The Wreckers came back with four in the bottom of the frame. Down 8-4, the Wreckers sliced the lead in half as Nathan Panzer smacked a two-run single down the right field line with two outs. A wild pitch resulted in a run to make it 8-7 heading into the sixth.
In the bottom of the seventh, Staples evened the score on Poulley's clean RBI single through the left side of the infield.
Mcfarland said he was proud of his team for battling back.
"Sometimes climbing that mountain takes a lot of energy out of you," Mcfarland said.
Staples finishes the season at 17-5. The Mustangs, coming off an FCIAC title run, improved to 17-8.
"Sometimes you're a team that's, I don't want to say a team of destiny, but that's what's coming to mind," Warde coach Mark Caron said. "We expect to win the tournament."
It took a fortuitous hop off the bag to ensure victory in this game, so there's no telling how things will play out as the postseason unfolds.
"It's baseball -- anything can happen," Caron said.
Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter