The season started off understandably slow for the New Milford baseball team. The Green Wave lost their first five games.
“We are really young, and we don’t have any varsity experience,” New Milford coach Ryan Johnson said. “None of those kids played at the varsity level with me as freshmen or sophomores so they are all brand new, stepping up and playing big boy baseball for the first time.”
New Milford is starting to grow up, fast.
The Green Wave have won two straight, defeating a talented Barlow team 10-0 Friday, then handing No. 8 Masuk its first loss of the season on Monday, 6-4.
“It was all brand new for them, and new for me too because I have never had a team without a single returner on the roster,” Johnson said. “We were kind of deer in the headlights for the first few games. Then when we played Barlow the guys had a different swag about them.”
To an outsider New Milford’s sudden pivot would appear to be an outlier, but the boys dawning the uniform saw it coming.
“In the first few games I don’t think we got beat, we beat ourselves,” junior catcher Owen Arias said. “We kicked the ball around, made some mental mistakes but from the beginning we had confidence we could win. Now that we have our first wins under our belt, we’re coming together as a team and we’re rolling.”
New Milford has shown clear improvement as players have begun to adjust the new level of play.
“I kept telling them they needed to believe they belong here,” Johnson said. “Even though they had never played at this level. We had to help them understand that they have been playing this game their whole lives, it is no different.”
Through its first four games New Milford batted .250 as a team and scored 16 runs (4 runs/game), but over its most recent three has batted .347 with 26 runs (8.67 runs/game).
“Everyone seems more loose,” Arias said. “We aren’t worried about getting our first win anymore or how are we going to turn this season around. Now the focus is how do we keep getting better moving forward.”
New Milford has brought its team batting average up to .295, and the driving force behind the resurgent offense has been Justin Leclair.
“Justin (Leclair) is just absolutely unconsciously on fire right now at the plate,” Johnson said. “It is honestly absurd.”
Leclair is slashing .583/.593/1.000 through 24 at bats this season, with two home runs 11 RBIs and nine runs scored. He has only struck out once.
Arias is second on the team in batting average and has a slash line of .429/.520/.571 with three extra base hits and five RBIs.
Leclair and Nick Tomasello led the charge against Masuk on Monday with two hits and an RBI each.
“We went into that game thinking we had nothing to lose,” Leclair said. “They’re the best team so let’s get them.”
Tomasello singled home the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh to give New Milford the late lead.
Relief pitcher Joshua McMinn earned the win, closing out the final 3.2 innings and allowing no runs in his third career varsity appearance.
Ryan Corgan started and lasted 3.1 innings, allowing four runs (two earned).
“They are the ones that went out there and stopped the mighty Masuk,” Johnson said. “They kept the ball down, allowed them to hit some ground balls and we made plays.”
Now with new life, New Milford looks to climb its way back to the .500 mark starting with Bunnell on Wednesday.
“Everything has been better,” Leclair said. “Practice has been better, we played better and we have a ton of confidence going into Bunnell.”
“When we lost game one we knew we were better than this,” Arias said. “Now it is time to turn around and prove it to everyone.”
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