Staples avenges loss to New Canaan, advances to FCIAC semifinals
WESTPORT -- For nearly a month, ever since their one-run loss to New Canaan, the members of the Staples High School baseball team have anxiously been awaiting a rematch, checking the standings in the hope that their paths might meet again in the postseason.
"Our kids watched intently the way they celebrated a regular-season game, and we were hoping they would be coming back to Westport," said Staples coach Jack McFarland. "We wanted New Canaan again."
The Wreckers got their chance Wednesday afternoon and made the most of it, riding a four-hit shutout by Rob Gau and taking advantage of an error to score three runs with two outs in the third inning to come away with a 3-0 win in the quarterfinal round of the FCIAC Tournament.
No. 4 Staples (16-5) will face top-seeded St. Joseph in a semifinal game tonight.
"We came here expecting to win," said Gau, who admitted the teams' prior meeting provided extra incentive. "Any team that beats us has the right to celebrate as hard as they want. I guess they thought it was their championship."
Gau (5-1) was the primary reason the Wreckers positioned themselves for a shot at their third league title in four years. He labored with his control early on -- he went to three-ball counts on five of the first nine hitters he faced, walked four batters and retired the side in order just once.
All in all, it was a typical Gau performance.
"That's Rob's MO," McFarland said. "He makes it hard to square up. He's just wild enough where you can't get a beat on him. His ball has a lot of movement. That's the way he operates."
Gau admitted his efficiency cannot be measured by a pitch count.
"That's the way it has always been for me ever since Little League," he said. "I throw a lot of pitches and it seems to get the job done."
Farina (7-2) yielded just five hits, striking out 10 and walking one, and was deserving of a better fate. He threw 86 pitches - 62 for strikes.
"He's the best pitcher in the FCIAC, bar none," New Canaan coach Mitch Hoffman said. "Unfortunately we made an error, and unfortunately a great game between two great pitchers came down to that."
The miscue, on a ball hit by Ben Lipper, occurred after Farina had retired the first two batters in the third. Mike Scott followed with a hit-and-run single through the right side to put runners on the corners.
New Canaan (13-8), the No. 5 seed, failed to take advantage of its early chances, stranding runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings.
"We were ringing the doorbell but nobody answered," Hoffman said. "We got farther than what people thought, but that's not acceptable to us."
Cameron Armstrong had two hits for the Rams.
Avenging losses seems to be a motivating force for the Wreckers this season. They have been spurred, McFarland admitted, since getting upset as the top seed in the opening round of last year's tournament.
"Our motto all year has been to finish," McFarland said. "We had T-shirts made us. We want to finish the season strong. This year the kids are focused."