Fairfield baseball team riding high in MAAC
FAIRFIELD — They are proving everyone wrong. And loving every minute of it.
Picked to finish eighth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason baseball poll and considered to be an afterthought by the experts after finishing last season 15 games under .500, the Fairfield Stags are riding high atop the MAAC standings, looking forward to a weekend series with second-place Monmouth that could see coach Bill Currier’s squad capture only its second regular season title.
“Some players are better than they were last year, some freshmen are doing a pretty good job in starting roles … that’s what it takes,” Currier said the other day as the Stags practiced at Alumni Diamond. “We’ve won a lot of close games this season and we didn’t do that last season, so maybe there’s more confidence and that builds you up a little bit. We’re doing pretty well.”
Heading into a huge weekend series against second place Monmouth in Long Branch, N.J., starting today, Fairfield (24-22) leads the MAAC with a 13-5 (.772) record, percentage points ahead of the Hawks (15-6, .714). A series win would put the Stags in position to win their first outright MAAC regular season championship since 1983. They tied for the title in 1991 and 1993.
“It’s the reason we all came here,” center fielder Drew Arciuolo said. “At the beginning, we kind of liked being picked last, being the underdog. We felt like it gave us a reason to push through everything. It would mean everything to win. It’s what we’ve worked for since last fall.”
After a start down South where Fairfield battled tooth and nail against No. 6 ranked North Carolina and No. 8 North Carolina State, along with UNC-Charlotte, the Stags came back North with a renewed sense of confidence heading into conference play.
“We definitely played that high competition really well and we knew that we weren’t going to see better competition than that the rest of the year,” Arciuolo said. “It gave us confidence coming in because we knew we could compete with anyone.”
After a three-game sweep of Delaware State to open the season, Fairfield was swept by the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack before losing two of three to UNC-Charlotte. Despite that slow Southern start (and the fact that the Stags lost two MAAC games to Rider to open conference play), the Stags regrouped and reeled off sweeps of Iona, Niagara and St. Peter’s, winning 10 straight MAAC games, before beating Manhattan once and taking two of three from Canisius — the league’s preseason favorite.
“We were always capable of doing well,” Currier said. “You just need more than one or two players to really jump up and do better than previous years or have some freshmen jump up, so we’ve got a lot of that happening.”
Who’s jumped up? Freshman pitcher John Signore from Xavier High in Middletown has become one of the Stags’ weekend conference starters and is 2-2 with a 2.40 ERA; another freshman, Jack Gethings from Wallingford, is the third baseman and is hitting .248 with 18 RBIs.
“It means a lot to me, especially coming in, I didn’t know what kind of role I’d have,” said Signore of becoming one the Stags’ top starters. “Obviously, I’m just here to help the team as much as I can. To know when I’m starting and knowing what I have to do, it’s special.”
Arciuolo, a sophomore, is from Milford and is hitting .284, while sophomore Kevin Radziewicz catches and is hitting .301 in addition to throwing out 12 baserunners.
“There’s a lot of local flavor,” said Currier, who has 13 Connecticut kids on his 31-man roster. “And they’ve jumped up and done well in their second year or third year. They’ve done a nice job.”
Senior outfielder Jake Salpietro leads the Stags in home runs with nine and RBIs with 34 and is batting .333 with junior shortstop Mike Conti leading Fairfield with a .353 average. Junior first baseman Mike Crispino is hitting .295 and playing solid defense. Along with Signore, sophomore Gavin Wallace (6-3, 5.54) and junior Kyle Dube (5-3, 3.67) have been the anchors of the starting staff.
“Those guys are keeping us right in games, keeping the run totals down and giving our hitters a chance to win games past the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” Currier said. “Last year we didn’t do that. This year we’re getting stronger as we go.”
And what would it mean to win the MAAC?
“It would mean a lot,” Signore said. “Picking us eighth was a disappointment. We’ve got something to prove.”