When Hand, a team that may not even qualify for the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament, defeated then-unbeaten, unanimous No. 1 Amity a week ago, it had to be the upset of the high school baseball season.
Or was it?
True, Hand is only a few games above .500 and lost four games in a row at one point this season. And yes, Amity has won four straight Class LL state titles and is the odds-on favorite to win a fifth.
But a closer look reveals that the Tigers certainly aren’t intimidated by the Spartans and, in fact, had nearly pulled off the upset a few weeks earlier.
On April 17 at Amity’s John Janenda Field, Hand took a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning. One out away from closing it out, the Tigers allowed three runs and dropped a 4-3 heartbreaker.
“We had them on the ropes,” Hand coach Travis LaPointe said. “We knew we could hang with them.”
Fast forward to May 8 at Polson Field and the Tigers did more than hang with Amity. Tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth, Hand’s Cam Fitzgerald homered over the left field fence to put the Tigers up for good in what wound up – ironically – a 4-3 victory.
“It was really good to finish the game against them the second time around, and get that bad taste out of our mouth,” said LaPointe.
The second game was a rematch of a battle of ace pitchers: Hand’s Kyle Schaefer against Amity’s Max Scheps. Both hurled complete games, but this time around Schaefer got bragging rights. He struck out six and improved to 5-1. It was the first loss of the season for Scheps.
Schaefer, a junior righthander, has been the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher since his freshman season.
“I think all the best pitchers are at their best when the most pressure is on,” LaPointe noted. “When you’re facing a team like Amity, and you know their best pitcher’s going, you have to be at your best. That’s when Kyle performs at his highest level.”
Julian Banerji, a sophomore centerfielder, also came up big against Amity, homering to right-centerfield to give Hand a 3-1 lead in the third.
Unfortunately, it may have been somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory for Hand. Dynamic clean-up hitter Eddie Sweeney, who leads the team with four home runs, had to leave early with a shoulder injury that may cause him to miss significant time.
Hand has actually played Amity very tough in recent years, even if the wins aren’t always there to show for it.
“We’re right with them every single time,” noted LaPointe, who’s in his sixth year as the Tigers’ head coach. “We haven’t been able to seal the deal, until this one.”
Hand is currently 11-7 overall.
“We’re young, we’re gonna be better next year, but we have a really good team,” LaPointe said. “I don’t think we’ve reached our potential yet. The last couple of weeks, we’ve had a chance to beat anybody on any given day.
But can we can also lose to anybody on any day.”
Case in point: Two days after the Amity win, Hand fell to Sheehan, 4-3.
“We didn’t play our best baseball,” LaPointe lamented.
Still, the Tigers will be in the Class L state tournament and could still make the SCC tourney. If that happens, and they meet up with Amity again, they certainly won’t be intimidated.
Have a Day, Coach Vacca!
Derek Jeter Night? That’s nice and all, but how about Mike Vacca Day?
That’s what this past Wednesday was in Ansonia, where the 47th-year Charger baseball coach was honored for winning his 500th career game two days earlier.
More than 100 people gathered at Nolan Field to Vacca’s milestone victory, which was a long time coming in more ways than one. Vacca was two wins away back on April 10, but Ansonia lost nine of its next 10 games before beating Torrington 10-3 on May 8 for No. 500.
In typical, self-effacing style, Vacca was reportedly more concerned about the fact that the ceremony occurred before a game against a strong Oxford team. And his worries may have proven valid, as the Chargers wound up losing 12-1.
Valley Regional coach Gary Marineau has taken the final few weeks of the season off so that he can spend more time with his adopted sons.
Toby Marineau, a freshman righthander at Vinal Tech, threw a no-hitter a couple of weeks ago against Capital Prep. Marineau’s younger son, Taber, 12, recently underwent a five-hour surgical procedure for a rare, progressive eye disease called Keratoconus.
Marineau and his wife, Lisa, lost their daughter, Courtney, to Spina Bifida at age 13 in 1997.
The Warriors are being coached by assistant Brian Drinkard through the state tournament, while Marineau gets to spend more time with Toby and Taber.