NEW MILFORD — New Milford baseball coach Ryan Johnson took the unusual route and gave his team a homework assignment right in the middle of the busy season.
He wanted each of his players to write what family and teamwork meant to them outside of baseball, and to report their findings to him. The group came up with similar findings and realized that they needed one another to continue a resurgence that seemed unlikely after the first two weeks of the season.
The Green Wave haven’t looked back since and head down the stretch as one of the hottest teams in the state. Suddenly, the Green Wave are back to the .500 mark at 8-8 and own an absurd 8-1 SWC record behind a strong junior class that didn’t have much varsity experience prior to this season.
“Not only did I learn more about them, they learned more about themselves and each other,” Johnson said of his experiment. “It was pretty eye-opening; they looked at each other differently after that. There are different ups and downs, but we’re going to be here for each other. Now they’re on fire on the bench cheering for each other on the bench. All aspects from that point on; they are much closer now.”
New Milford started off 0-7 and appeared to be on the outside looking in. But then everything changed. The Green Wave have allowed just 11 runs with three shutouts during their 8-1 stretch, while the offense has sprung to life.
“It’s difficult when you start losing, it can snowball pretty quickly,” Johnson said. “Both me and (assistant coach Aaron Johnson) just kept drilling the positive things and told them not to give up. We didn’t want to go 0-10 or 0-12; it can change so quick, too.”
It was an unusual position for Johnson, who had won at least 14 games at the school in all three of his seasons. To reach that number will require postseason success, which isn’t out of the question at the moment. The whirlwind of the non-league schedule included games against Ridgefield, Staples and Newtown — all current or former top 10 teams.
Mistakes also plagued the Green Wave early; the team had 23 errors in those seven defeats.
“We’re a fairly young team and I wanted to put them to the utmost test in those first games,” Johnson said. “We front-loaded our schedule; we wanted to show our younger players that varsity baseball is different than JV, summer or AAU. I wanted to see where they stood. At 0-7, I told them to keep believing, they’re good baseball players.”
Luke Pliego and Connor Gannon have emerged in the pitching staff, combining to pitch to an ERA under 2.00. Ace Tim Ciancolo has shouldered the innings load for the Green Wave, finding his groove over his past couple of starts.
Offense was hard to come by early in the season, but it’s also picked up during the streak. Gannon is a spark plug at the top of the lineup, while Nick Scarcella provides the power in the middle of the lineup. A former catcher, Scarcella volunteered to move to the outfield to help fill out those positions.
“He stepped up and said ‘I’m going to play in the outfield,’ ” Johnson said. “He’s hit over .400 in the conference and playing lights-out defense. He gave up his position to a junior and that just shows it’s about the team.”
They’re headed for the SWC and Class LL playoffs with all the momentum that was non-existent three weeks ago.
“I think we are definitely someone to be look out for,” Johnson said. “With our quality arms and the way we’re playing; we always talk about how it’s not how you start it’s how you finish.”