Balance and depth of FCIAC baseball came through in 2024

It was a strong year for FCIAC baseball in terms of balance and depth with several very good teams jockeying for high seeds in the conference tournament and several more good teams battling it out down the regular season’s homestretch to try to snatch one of the final seeds.

As things shook out after the seven games were played in the 2024 FCIAC Baseball Tournament, it was coach Phil Pacelli’s third-seeded Trumbull Eagles who emerged as conference champions.

Trumbull’s fifth overall conference championship along with Staples being seeded 19th in the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Baseball Class LL Tournament and then winning four games to advance to the state Class LL final for the fifth time since 2015 were two big achievements which highlighted the FCIAC baseball season.

Trumbull’s superb sophomore pitcher Trevor Schuelke was selected MVP of the FCIAC tournament championship after he scattered six hits and had seven strikeouts while hurling a complete game to lead the Eagles to a 7-1 victory over fifth-seeded Wilton at Stamford’s Cubeta Stadium on May 22.

Schuelke shut out Wilton through six innings until the Warriors scored their run in the seventh to deny him the complete-game shutout.

Ryan Paine was 3-for-3 with three runs scored while leading Trumbull’s 13-hit attack. Andrew Valentino drove in two runs, including singling in Trumbull’s first run, and Ryan Johnson had two hits for the champions.

Trumbull’s victory ended a sizzling run for Wilton’s Warriors under the guidance of their venerable coach Tim Eagen in his 45th season of being Wilton’s head coach. Eagen’s Warriors were unbeaten in all of May, having won their last nine games of the regular season to secure that No. 5 seed in the conference tournament, and they took an 11-game winning streak into the FCIAC championship game.

Max Jarvie delivered in the clutch for Wilton’s Warriors to give them that 11th straight win when he ripped a two-run double with two outs in the seventh inning to help send them to the FCIAC final with their 5-4 victory over No. 1 seed and three-time defending conference champion Fairfield Warde.

Trumbull’s Jack Larkin fired 6.1 innings of shutout ball and struck out seven to lead the Eagles to the conference tourney final with their 3-0 victory over No. 7 Staples. The semifinal doubleheader took place at Cubeta Stadium on May 20.

The fact that the No. 1 seed, No. 3 seed, No. 5 seed and No. 7 seed advanced to the FCIAC semifinals exemplified the depth and balance of the conference this year.

The FCIAC quarterfinals took place at the fields of the higher-seeded teams on May 17, and it was a rare occurrence in that all four winners advanced to the semifinals with shutout victories.

Trumbull shut out No. 6 Darien, 3-0; Wilton erupted for eight runs in the eighth inning its 8-0 victory at No. 4 Norwalk; the Staples offense racked up 15 runs in a 15-0 victory at No. 2 Greenwich; and Fairfield Warde kept on track for the potential fourth straight conference crown with an 11-0 victory over No. 8 Brien McMahon.

Staples, Fairfield Warde and New Canaan all advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIAC Class LL Baseball Tournament. The 19th-seeded Staples Wreckers advanced to the final with a 4-2 victory over coach Brett Conner’s second-seeded and two-time defending state Class LL champion Fairfield Warde Mustangs. The FCIAC had a combined 12-11 record among its 11 teams in the 32-team Class LL state tourney.

Amity was seeded No. 4 the Class L tournament and the Spartans won their seventh state championship with their 9-1 victory over Staples in a rematch of the 2017 Class LL final which coach Jack McFarland’s 11th-seeded Staples Wreckers won by a 5-1 margin to end Amity’s streak of four straight Class LL state championships. Two years later Staples won the Class LL crown with a 3-0 victory over Southington.

This season McFarland’s Wreckers advanced to the Class LL final for the second consecutive year. They lost last year, 2-1 in 10 innings, to defending champion Fairfield Warde.

The FCIAC had a combined 16-13 record from all its state tournament qualifiers in the three largest of the four state class tourneys. St. Joseph was seeded No. 21 in the Class M tournament and the Cadets defeated three higher-seeded teams to advance to the semifinals, where they were eliminated by No. 1 seed and eventual runner-up Joel Barlow, 3-1.

Amity received 10 of the 16 first-place votes to be ranked No. 1 in the 2024 Final GameTimeCT Top 10 Baseball Poll.

The three FCIAC teams in the final Top 10 were No. 6 Fairfield Warde, No. 8 Staples, and No. 10 Trumbull.

Last year Fairfield Warde and Staples were ranked 1-2, respectively, in the final state poll as Warde’s Mustangs were No. 1 for the second consecutive year.

This year’s final Top 10, in order and with records in parenthesis, was: Amity (21-6), Class L state champion Woodstock Academy (26-2) with four first-place votes, Class M state champ Woodland (25-2) with the other two first-place votes; Southington (25-1), Joel Barlow (27-1), No. 6 Fairfield Warde (21-5), RHAM (21-4), No. 8 Staples (16-11), Daniel Hand (24-3), and No. 10 Trumbull (19-5).

Wilton (17-8) received the 18th most polling points and New Canaan (13-10) got the 19th most as the two FCIAC teams among the 11 total in the Others Receiving Votes category.

New Canaan’s senior center fielder Alex Benevento and Fairfield Warde’s dominant junior pitcher Austin Howard were the two conference players who were selected to the All-FCIAC First Team, the GameTimeCT All-State Baseball First Team, and the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Class LL All-State Team.

Benevento had a sizzling .556 batting average with five home runs, 19 RBIs and 28 runs scored this season. He also utilized his keen eye at the plate to draw 15 walks and ended up with a 1.619 on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Benevento made the All-FCIAC First Team for the third time and was selected the conference’s Player of the Year this year. Benevento, who also made the 2023 GameTimeCT All-State Second Team last year, had a .439 career batting average with his 119 hits and he scored 108 runs in his career.

Howard struck out 69 batters in 48 innings, had a 0.00 ERA and a 7-1 record. Opposing batters combined for a .132 batting average against him and he allowed just 21 hits and three total runs. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound righthander has already committed to playing for Louisville in the ACC after his senior year at Fairfield Warde next year.

The CHSCA and GameTimeCT each utilize different formats for its all-state teams.

The CHSCA selects its all-state players to each of the four classifications of state tournaments the respective schools are designated to play in if they qualify. GameTimeCT selected 36 total players – 12 players each who either made all-state first team, all-state second team, or all-state honorable mention.

Senior outfielder Jack Farnen of Staples and Fairfield Warde’s sophomore DH/catcher/third baseman Jimmy Dobbs both joined Benevento and Howard on the All-FCIAC First Team and CHSCA Class LL All-State Team and made the GameTimeCT All-State Second Team.

Junior pitcher Kai Nee of Staples and Trumbull’s sophomore pitching phenom Schuelke were both picked to the All-FCIAC First Team, CHSCA Class LL All-State Team, and GameTimeCT All-State Honorable Mention.

Greenwich’s John McHugh made the All-FCIAC First Team and CHSCA Class LL All-State Team. Fairfield Ludlowe’s senior pitcher Spencer Bradley was selected to the All-FCIAC First Team and GameTimeCT All-State Second Team.

Wilton’s Jarvie was selected to the CHSCA Class L All-State Team and All-FCIAC First Team. St. Joseph’s Nick Coppola made the CHSCA Class M All-State Team and FCIAC All-East Team.

The other nine players who made the 18-player All-FCIAC First Team were Carson Dodder, Grady Schopps and Derek Davis of Fairfield Warde, Fairfield Ludlowe’s Ben Crawford, Stamford’s Brandon Vitali, Brien McMahon’s Alan Vasquez, Danbury’s Luke Ciccone, Trumbull’s Jake Hull, and Norwalk’s Chase DePalma.

Eagen, still as fiery and competitive as ever in his 45th year since becoming Wilton High School’s head baseball coach in 1980, was selected the 2024 FCIAC Coach of the Year.

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