New Canaan baseball rallies to beat Darien
DARIEN -- J.R. Anderson wasn't in New Canaan's starting rotation when preseason workouts began last month.
A sophomore right-hander with no varsity experience, Anderson was barely even a blip on head coach Mitch Hoffman's radar screen.
"I had him penciled in as a reliever," Hoffman said. "Hopefully."
The fact he was given the ball for one of the biggest games of the season proves how quickly Anderson earned his coach's respect.
Wednesday afternoon's effort showed how badly he wants to keep it.
Anderson displayed the poise of a veteran, scattering six hits while striking out five and walking none, allowing the Rams to come back to post a 4-2 victory over rival Darien at the Darien High School turf field.
The Blue Wave had a commanding 2-0 lead going into the sixth behind the pitching of ace Dillon Duncan, a senior right-hander who pounded the strike zone and allowed just three hits through five innings.
But New Canaan took advantage of some defensive mistakes by the Blue Wave over the final two frames, scoring twice in the sixth and twice in the seventh to post the victory.
Through it all, Anderson remained steady as a rock, picking up his first varsity win in his second start despite some early defensive miscues by the Rams (6-2 overall, 4-2 FCIAC).
Anderson threw nothing but strikes during a crisp 69-pitch effort. All six hits he allowed were singles.
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"This is always a huge game for New Canaan," said Anderson, who picked up a no-decision against Trumbull after impressing the coaching staff during relief appearances against St. Joseph and New Milford. "I just felt like I had to go out there and pump strikes every single at-bat. I knew I couldn't afford to give anyone a free ride and throughout the game I was able to throw my fastball wherever my catcher wanted it. I didn't walk one batter and I think that allowed me to be successful."
Both runs allowed by Anderson might have been avoided with better defense. Spencer Dean, a junior filling in at shortstop after Tommy Caruthers broke his finger on a stolen base attempt in the first inning, scored the first run in the fourth on an infield single and a throwing error by New Canaan.
Consecutive singles by Alex Yergey and Tom MacLean, coupled with two more New Canaan throwing errors, led to the to second Darien run in the fifth.
But unlike most first-year varsity players, Anderson stuck to the game plan and kept throwing strikes.
"He stayed in there while we were bouncing the ball around," said Hoffman, who gave Anderson his first start after he set down eight straight with four strikeouts during a relief appearance against New Milford. Anderson's effort during a no-decision during a comeback win against Trumbull put him on the mound against New Canaan's biggest rival.
"We're a young team and he just fought his way into the rotation," Hoffman said. "We tell our young pitchers if they want to play they have to throw strikes, and that's what he's been doing."
Duncan (1-2) did that all afternoon, throwing 67 of his 82 pitches for strikes. Duncan looked like he was headed toward a complete-game shutout when Andrew Casali and Willie Burger strung together singles with two outs in the sixth. Burger's came on an 0-2 fastball Duncan kept over the meat of the plate. Duncan still looked like he would get out of the inning unscathed after inducing Gogo Jones into a ground ball to second. But Darien short-hopped the throw to first, allowing Casali to score. A second throwing error put Burger on third and Dan Rajkowski drove in the tying run with an infield single past a diving Mike Stovall.
Duncan allowed nine hits, all singles, with three strikeouts and no walks.
"He gave us a great effort on the mound. He definitely deserved to get a win there," said Darien head coach Mike Scott, whose team fell to 3-5 overall and 2-4 in the FCIAC. "We were one play away from getting out of that inning and taking a 2-0 lead into the seventh. It's a tough loss. They're our rivals and we want to beat them. But it's still just one game. We just have to come back strong and get ready to face a good Greenwich team on Friday."
Doug Reily singled to right on an 0-2 count to push Ouellette to third and Casali drove him in with a sacrifice bunt.
Hoffman hopes the win provides a spark for the rest of the season.
"We're a young team, and that's what young teams need to build off of," Hoffman said. "Wins like this give you experience you can't replicate during scrimmages and practices, especially against Darien. It was a team effort today."
NEW CANAAN 4, DARIEN 2
NEW CANAAN........ 000 002 2--4 9 3
DARIEN.................... 000 110 0--2 6 2
Records: New Canaan 6-2, 4-2 FCIAC; Darien 3-5, 2-4 FCIAC.
Batteries: NC--J.R. Anderson (W, 1-0) and Casey Ouellette; D--Dillon Duncan (1-2) and Sam Gillespie.