Coming into Wednesday’s contest against the Bridgeport Central Hilltoppers, New Canaan baseball had been struggling to find any offense. In their most recent four games, the team was only able to score two runs, combined.
So a well-pitched game from starting pitcher Zach Lopez was needed to give the offense a chance to rediscover their punch—and Lopez delivered.
The junior threw a complete-game, allowing just one run and striking out six in seven innings of work on the mound, while the offense provided him with more than enough support by plating six runs on nine hits to propel the Rams (6-10, 5-8 FCIAC) to victory over Bridgeport Central (1-14, 0-13 FCIAC), 6-1.
“Zach’s been doing a great job all year,” head coach Mitch Hoffman told NewCanaanite.com. “He’s been key for us all year. In those situations [where a win is needed], he’s come through. He did a great job today.”
After Lopez retired the Bridgeport side in order in the top of the first inning, New Canaan put an early run on the board in the bottom half. Leadoff hitter Thomas Reynolds got on via the benefit of a Bridgeport Central infield error, then moved over to second on a stolen base; then to third on a single from Matt Burger; and scored on a shallow sacrifice fly from Robby Jones, to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.
Back on the mound with that lead in the top of the second, Lopez retired the first two batters (including one strikeout) before giving up his first baserunner of the afternoon, but bounced back with another K to end the frame and preserve the lead. His offense then helped extend that lead in the bottom half when Lucian Tamburro drove in Pat Diamond on a single to center off of Central starter Darryl Belton to put the Rams up 2-0.
Lopez breezed right through the top of the third, striking out one and getting the inning to end on a double play. Back up at the dish, the Rams went run-hunting again. And for the third inning in a row, they got one–this time courtesy of a sacrifice fly from Diamond that was driven to deep right field and scored Mike Pelli.
Now with a three-run cushion, Lopez kept on rolling by retiring the Central side in order once again in the top of the fourth. And in the bottom half, the Rams would score for their fourth consecutive inning, this time plating two runs in the frame. The first coming on a sac fly from Burger that scored Griffin Arnone; and the second coming on a single from senior co-captain Thomas Williams that plated Reynolds to put New Canaan up by five.
It was more than enough for Lopez (7 IP, 1 R, 6H, 6 K, 1 BB, 1 HBP) who had pretty much everything working for him on the afternoon.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Lopez told NewCanaanite.com about his effort on the mound. “My curveball was working pretty well. Yeah I bounced a few, but overall it was good. The fastball was working well. I was hitting the corners. So that really worked out for us. It’s all about throwing strikes. I’ve got faith in the defense backing me up and they played a really great game today. Now we have a good chance at moving forward [to states]. I’m confident. Our team is confident. We feel good.”
And that confidence will go a long way in determining whether the Rams can make the CIAC Class L tournament and extend its five-year streak of postseason play. With just four games remaining in the regular season and two more wins needed to qualify, Hoffman’s squad’s next three contests will be against three formidable FCIAC opponents (Wilton, Danbury and Greenwich)–all of whom were, as of Wednesday, ahead of New Canaan in the conference standings.
But while the head coach knows the task won’t be easy, the message he told his team in its outfield huddle at the conclusion of Wednesday’s game was simple.
“We basically said to each other, ‘No matter what happens, leave it out there on the field’,” Hoffman said. “I don’t care what summer team you play on, I don’t care what other things you have going on. You’ll remember this group for the rest of your lives. And the bond that you form as a high school team will never stop. So do it [try to qualify for states] for the guys who might never get the chance to play baseball again. We’re gonna fight, tooth and nail. I really love this group and I hope we get the wins necessary for them.”