As we enter the quarterfinals of the CIAC baseball tournament, here are five storylines to monitor:
Six of the eight teams alive in Class LL come from the FCIAC. The conference began the tournament with 13 teams in the field and three of those (Staples, New Canaan, Danbury) were eliminated by fellow FCIAC opponents. Now in the quarterfinals, the FCIAC is assured a spot in the championship game as No. 24 Norwalk plays No. 17 Ridgefield and No. 5 Warde takes on No. 4 Greenwich with the winners of those two games meeting in one semifinal. No. 18 McMahon travels to play No. 10 Newington and No. 19 Westhill will be on the road at No. 11 Hall. If they both win, they would meet in the other semifinal. The last time the Class LL final was between two FCIAC schools was 2001 when Stamford defeated Trumbull in the championship.
Not a bad first season
There are several coaches still in the tournaments who are in their first full seasons at the helm of their teams, though some were hired prior to the 2020 season, but never coached a game until 2021. Now in their first-year of coaching, these coaches have their teams three games from a championship. In Class LL the new guys are in every remaining game with Adrian Arango (Greenwich); Mike Riveles (Westhill); Ryan Mitchell (Norwalk) and Steve Buckett (McMahon). Class M has, Dom Lombardozzi (Sheehan) and Steve Bainer (Woodland) both in their first seasons. Class S has Matt Smolley (Holy Cross) as its new coach.
Keeping a clean sheet
East Catholic entered the tournaments as the lone unbeaten team in the state. The Eagles are now three games from completing not only an undefeated season but winning the first state title at the school since 1997. Saturday’s quarterfinal against No. 9 Weston, the SWC champion, represents one of the toughest challenge the Eagles have faced all season. Having a pitcher like Frank Mozzicato certainly helps, but the Eagles are much more than one man. Among the talented team, catcher Hank Penders was named CHSCA Class LL All-State and junior shortstop Alex Irizarry is committed to play at Maryland.
Rolling on 20s
There are eight teams remaining seeded 20 or greater in the four tournaments. In Class LL, No. 24 Norwalk will face No. 17 Ridgefield after beating No. 25 New Canaan in the second round. In Class L, No. 20 Wilton takes on No. 12 Avon and No. 22 Lyman Memorial will face No. 19 North Haven. In Class M, No. 21 Sheehan will face No. 4 Waterford. Class S has four 20 seeds left with No. 24 Shepaug Valley taking on No. 1 St. Paul; No. 28 Immaculate playing No. 20 North Branford and No. 23 Northwest Catholic goes on the road to face No. 2 Nonnewaug.
Of the eight teams left in the Class S bracket, four are Catholic schools. All four can also advance to the semifinals, lining up an All-Catholic school championship in the division meant for the smallest schools in the state. This continues a trend in Class S. In four of the last five years a Catholic school has won the Class S title. In 2019, Coventry beat Shepaug in a battle between two true Class S teams.
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