Race against time
Storms force SWC, FCIAC teams to scramble into postseason
New Fairfield baseball coach Joe Garbowski — a lifelong resident of the town — sent his team home early following last Tuesday’s practice, then raced to the basement at New Fairfield High as devastating storms raced through.
Garbowski — whose street was hit particularly hard by the storm with the National Guard being called in and power still not restored — eventually got home and the cleanup began. Almost a week later, he has barely spoken and hasn’t seen his team since that practice. Power was recently restored to the town center and is slowly proliferating through the neighborhoods.
The season started with rain and frigid temperatures creating havoc with the schedule. It ended with a host of severe storms that knocked the power out of several towns entirely, leaving local teams to complete their schedules ahead of the postseason with time running out.
“Never in all my years — living in this town since first grade — this is worst I’ve ever seen what’s
happened to this town,” said Garbowski. I’m sure surrounding towns are in the same predicament as we are as you look around.”
The Rebels — who have already qualified for the SWC playoffs — are just one example of many who are trying to pick up the pieces before the most important part of the season.
Following this week’s devastating weather, the SWC and FCIAC were forced to adjust the schedule of their postseason tournaments. For the SWC, a gauntlet of three days in a row — Tuesday’s quarterfinals, Wednesday’s semifinals and Thursday’s final — will test the pitching staffs of the eight qualifiers.
“This format is going to be a testament whoever has the arms, makes the plays and gets the big hits,” said New Milford coach Ryan Johnson. “We pride ourselves on being mentally tough; we think we have the arms to piece this together, but this is something unusual.”
As wrestling and boxing circles would say: Card subject to change.
With one more round of league games left on the schedule, matchups for the postseason have not even been set. Several teams need to win their final games to get in, and with seeding implications across the board tournaments cannot begin until all regular season games have been completed.
Most schools hold a policy that practices or games cannot occur if school is closed. New Fairfield is closed through Sunday and its prom scheduled for Monday; the Rebels still must face New Milford in their season finale before Tuesday. That leaves several unappealing options, including the Green Wave and Rebels having to play their quarterfinal games in the same day as their matchup.
“My initial reaction was no way we have the makeup of a team to play four straight games, three of them being playoff games with the pitching rules what they are,” Garbowski said. “But everyone is in the same boat.”
For Pomperaug, which is scheduled to host Immaculate Monday, that would also mean playing games in four straight days for a possible title run. The Panthers also have seven wins; a win over the Mustangs would put them in the state tournament. Pomperaug coach Mike Eisenbach added that several of his players still do not have power as of Saturday.
A short drive from the school down Judd Road would explain why.
“The main thing was just making sure everyone was safe,” Eisenbach said. “Once we got power to our house we reached out to any of our players in need. It’s been nice too see everyone in the community reach out for each other.”
CIAC rules require that a pitcher who throws more than 75 pitches in one game rest for three calendar days before appearing again. A pitcher who throws between 51 and 75 pitches must rest for two days. These counts will be heavily monitored before a champion is crowned.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Johnson said. “What do you do, go and win your last league game to possibly not have that pitcher available for the playoffs? Or piece it together and have everyone throw their bullpen sessions.”
The FCIAC schedule is a little less daunting with games scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, but the availability of aces who throw in the quarterfinals in the final round would likely be limited to a bullpen role.
“It’s not optimal in that you won’t get your ace on the mound (for the whole final),” said Staples coach Jack McFarland. “It will help teams with stronger lineups and deeper pitching staffs; three playoff games in four days is a lot.”
Danbury and Greenwich will square off Sunday to finish their regular season; any adjustment to that would push the tournament back another day. Top-seeded Ridgefield already knows its opponent in Ludlowe, but the rest of the field has yet to be filled out.
The qualifying round for the state tournament is scheduled to begin Saturday if the schedule wasn’t hectic enough.
With the conference tournament already in turmoil, whoever comes out on top of this grind will have earned it.
“I think we’re deep enough to be competitive, but it definitely makes it more of a wild-card tournament than it already is,” McFarland said. “Traditionally anyone can got hot and win the three-game tournament.”
Westhill’s Leo Socci fist pumps first base coach Chris Antonacci after hitting a single against Darien in the second inning of a 4-3 victory on May 11 in Stamford.
Westhill’s George Psicopaidas slides as Stamford’s Matt Wirz throws to first base to complete a double play to end the fourth inning on May 8 at Cubeta Field.