DANBURY — A mercy-ruled perfect game tossed by John MacDonald of Westhill not only dropped Danbury — which had hopes of contending for a FCIAC title entering the year — to a 2-7 record, but prompted coach Shaun Ratchford to meet with his seniors on the Hatters’ field.
He outlined that a few more losses would submarine their season and result in an increased playing time for younger players with an eye towards 2019.
Hosting a FCIAC playoff game never seemed so far away.
“It really got me upset when he said that because it’s my senior year and I’ve been playing for four years now,” said senior ace Ryan Solimine. “I said we have to pick it up because if not I might as well hand in my jersey. We told everyone to play for each other as a team and stop worrying about ourselves.”
The conversation lit a fire in Solimine, his fellow seniors and, eventually, the whole squad. And in a tale of two seasons, few teams enter the playoffs with more momentum than the Hatters.
The turning point came two days later as Justin Hope delivered a walk-off win over Darien. That sparked a stretch of eight wins from nine games, vaulting the Hatters into the top four in the standings with the playoffs scheduled for this weekend.
“It’s a unique thing and a testament to what they’ve done to the seniors,” Ratchford said. “When we met on the field (after the Vikings loss) it was a somber thing because you don’t ever want that. They took it to heart and made a complete change.”
After not reaching FCIACs last year in controversial fashion — a win over Wilton that involved a batting order violation was later overturned after a protest — Danbury went on a run to the Class LL semifinals. Qualifying for the conference tournament this year was a form of redemption.
“It hurt us last year,” Solimine said. “We beat Wilton this year and it feels good that we have a shot of winning FCIACs. It means a lot to me; we’re all trying every day to get better.”
The Hatters returned to their formula of pitching and defense behind a quality staff. Solimine leads the group while brother Justin Solimine, Richard Wekerle and Hope have all contributed to the recent stretch.
“Justin Solimine is throwing extremely well; he’s got command of three, sometimes four pitches,” Ratchford said. “Wekerle has done well; he always brings a fastball that comes in on the hitter and a strong curveball.”
That combined with a reduction of errors have turned the Hatters’ fortunes around since the 10-0 defeat to the Vikings April 18. The Hatters have allowed 17 runs in the last nine games.
“I felt like it motivated us to have great second half of the season,” said shortstop Javon Hernandez, who is hitting above .400 this season. “We learned from it and came back stronger as a team. We’ve been better defensively; we started slow but we’ve just been clean (defensively).”
Danbury was scheduled to play Trumbull Wednesday and host Greenwich Thursday — two playoff squads — before FCIACs begin. However, Danbury has canceled school for Wednesday after storms ripped through the region, meaning the games could be pushed.
Ratchford has seen plenty in this three decades with the team, but turnarounds like these are few and far between.
“That’s a great testament to the kids,” said Ratchford. “In my 34 years that doesn’t happen; you’re either good or you’re bad. Rarely do you start one way and end the other. It’s great for the seniors; we’ve had great practices, the kids enjoy it and are having fun. We didn’t have that at the beginning.”