MONROE — Under the sun of this June afternoon, one day before Masuk would hunt for another state title, Megan McFarland glided easily toward her mission. Her coach Leigh Barone, standing near home plate, drove softballs through a simulated seven innings and when she skied them toward centerfield there was McFarland quick to snare them.
Sometimes, yes, sometimes it isn’t this easy. Take Tuesday against North Haven in the CIAC Class L softball semifinals at DeLuca Field in Stratford. The game was scoreless when McFarland was driven back, back, back on a towering drive. She reached up, caught the ball and tumbled over the outfield fence. This had happened twice before, McFarland said, and both times she had failed to hang onto the ball. Not this time. She arose, held her glove aloft, the ball secured. A home run had turned into an out. Masuk would emerge victorious.
It was the kind of over-the-fence web gem that would send any dad watching in the stands over the moon with pride and joy.
Jack McFarland wasn’t there.
He was on a mission of his own, leading his Staples-Westport baseball team into the spring’s premier showdown against Cheshire at the Class LL semifinals at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. Behind the pitching of Chad Knight, drafted a day later by the Yankees, the Wreckers would win 3-0 and set up one of the state’s most precious family reunions.
Dad will get to watch daughter play the state championship in her final high school game.
Daughter will get to watch dad go after his second state title in three years the following day.
“This is exciting for the whole family,” Jack said. “Thank God the CIAC split the games up so I can see her play Friday night.”
“I’m thrilled about this,” Megan said. “Not only for myself, but for our team and for my dad and his team.”
Masuk will face East Haven for the Class L title at 7 p.m. Friday at DeLuca. With previously undefeated St. Joseph falling to East Haven in the second round of the tournament, a victory should make the Panthers the No. 1 team in the state in the final Top 10 poll.
Staples will face Southington for the Class LL title at noon Saturday at Palmer Field. With its victory, tense, taut, over Cheshire, a win should make the Wreckers the No. 1 team in the state in the final baseball poll.
The McFarlands will be out in force Friday night. Norma, Jack’s wife and Megan’s mom, will be there of course. So will Megan’s three sisters, Jack’s mom and other family members. Jack, too.
“The heartbreaking part of doing this is you’re not there,” Jack said. “People are sending you texts. Here’s a video of her catch. Here, she got a double. It’s all great to get the texts. But it hurts not to be there.
“When she got to high school, we had a long discussion. She said, ‘Dad, I want you to coach. Work with me when you can. I don’t want you to give up coaching just because I’m playing.’ We’re very close. We work hard together on her game on the weekends.”
Said Megan, “Our games are usually on the same days and if they aren’t there’s always practice. It’s tough.”
Every year, every sport, you’ll hear or you’ll read about coaches giving up their positions to have more time to watch their son or daughter play in high school or college. A parent puts so much time into teaching their kids or simply — and profoundly — showing them support, that when it comes time to appreciate the fruits of their mentoring and love, well, stepping aside is something entirely understandable. At the same time, other coaches will press on, teaching, developing young people in the larger community. And that is equally laudable.
Megan started in T-ball when she was in pre-school. She played Little League with the boys. She didn’t want to stop. Her dad had to convince her it was best to transition to softball if she wanted to keep on playing.
“I was sad at the time, but it was time to try something new,” Megan said.
Eight runs in one inning and some great defense helps defending Class L champ @masuksoftball get back to the title game! Megan McFarland's over the fence catch is worth the watch! #ctsb @WTNH @masukhighschool pic.twitter.com/fXaAdkaITX
— John Pierson (@JPPierson) June 5, 2019
Dad and daughter would go in the backyard all the time, dad constantly hitting fly balls for Meg to track. Later, they’d go to fields and hit. The transition to softball at age 12 obviously worked. Besides developing into one of the best centerfielders in the state, Megan has hit around .500 the last two seasons. Her reward is a scholarship to play at Bridgeport.
“My mom has taken me to tournaments all around New England, to Pennsylvania,” Megan said. “She has done so much for me, too, and my dad has guided me to where I am today. I love both of them so much.”
Sure, Megan is a Red Sox and Patriots fan, and Dad is a Mets and Jets fans. That’ll cause a little family feuding. And they’ll be taking separate buses on Friday and Saturday. Yet there is no denying the bond forged when they rode the Staples bus together to games when Megan was much younger.
— Ryan Lacey (@RyanLacey11) April 27, 2019
“We had David Speer and Jack Hennessy in ’08 and ’09, she’d sit in the bus, put her hat on, eat the sandwiches,” Jack said. “She loved it, went to all the games.”
“We’d go on the road trips,” Megan said. “Obviously, my favorite part was the sandwiches. It was fun.”
Little Meg eating sandwiches.
Grown Meg, lithe, athletic, crashing fences, winning state titles.
The wheels on the bus go round and round.
After the Class L title of last year, Masuk extended its winning streak to 41 games before falling to St. Joseph, 2-0, the first week of May. St. Joe’s, which won the Class M title last year, moved up to L and a showdown loomed. East Haven had other ideas, stunning the Cadets.
“It was a good game when we played St. Joe’s,” Megan said. “It was unfortunate that we lost, but it definitely helped us a lot. We got better as a team. I was surprised St. Joe’s got knocked out. It amazed me. Now we’re playing the team that beat them. We’re really excited. We strive to be No. 1. I love everybody on this team.”
— Ryan Lacey (@RyanLacey11) May 2, 2018
Cheshire, Staples, Southington, Amity, Ludlowe, Newtown … Class LL clearly ruled the state Top 10 baseball polls this spring.
“LL was a huge mountain,” Jack said. “We get to the Final Four and there’s Cheshire, No. 1 seed, 25 straight wins. That was a high-level game, like a college game. Neither team made an error, we got a couple of timely hits. That’s got to be the formula Saturday.”
Leadership, maturity, three stellar captains, the Wreckers have a number of guys remaining from the 2017 state champs. One of those captains is Knight. The Gatorade Player of the Year was selected in the 31st round by the Yankees on Wednesday.
“We were at practice when the Yankees called,” Jack said. “They’ve followed him a long time. They said they always wanted him to be a Yankee, to always have that on his resume.”
Knight clearly could have been picked earlier in the draft, but teams knew he has his eyes set on playing on Duke. What’s not set, Jack McFarland said, is who’ll be his starting pitcher Saturday against Southington: “It’s like a Game 7, all hands on deck.
“Hopefully, we both can get it done. Masuk is a terrific team. Megan loves her coaches and teammates. But getting this far alone is a great accomplishment.”
An accomplishment dad and daughter will get to watch.