Greenwich baseball starts FCIAC playoff push with 9-2 win over Central

It’s now or never for the Greenwich High School baseball team.

At the start of week, Big Red had a record of 7-6 overall and was on the outside looking in at the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference postseason with a 5-6 record.

On Monday afternoon, Greenwich started its quest for the FCIACs by traveling up to Bridgeport and blanking the Hilltoppers 9-0.

“We need to keep on doing what we did today,” Greenwich High starting pitcher JT Hintzen said. “We need to keep on hitting and make those defensive plays. We also need to play smart baseball. I think anything can happen if we keep winning and get into a postseason spot. Two years ago Trumbull had eight losses going into the postseason and won FCIACs.”

“It’s nice to get a victory in a game that it’s not a tight one,” Greenwich High School head coach Phil Tarantino said. “The kids were able to have fun and enjoy themselves.”

On the mound, Hintzen was lights out. Throwing 117 pitches on the day and going the distance, he gave up only six hits and two runs while striking out an amazing 15 batters on the day.

“It felt good to be back on the mound again,” Hintzen said. “The last time I pitched was a week ago, so I was fired up and ready to throw hard. It felt really good to get the win.”

Greenwich didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard, scoring a run in the top of the first inning. Alex Loparco started things off with a single. With one out, Justin Gaccione laced a double that scored Loparco and gave Big Red the 1-0 lead.

In the fourth inning, Greenwich broke the game open with four runs in the fourth inning. Dunster started the inning with a booming triple and scored when Hintzen connected on a single. Kevin Woodring and Michael Genaro each connected on a single and Keigo Fujikura cleared the bases by drilling a two-RBI double.

The Cardinals added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning. With one out, Dunster laced a single that went just past the Bridgeport Central shortstop. With one out Hintzen hit a towering double that went over the centerfielder’s head and easily scored Dunster.

With two outs and Hintzen on second, Woodring stepped up to the plate and hit a single to center. Rounding third and headed home, Hintzen slid into home and beat the tag for the 6-0 lead.

Greenwich High added three runs in the top of the seventh inning. Fujikura started the inning with a walk, advanced to second on a groundout by McGrath and moved to third on a passed ball during Loparco’s at bat.

After Loparco drew a walk, Gaccione unloaded a single down the right field line, which drove home Loparco and Fujikura. Gaccione hustled to second when the right fielder bobbled the ball on his single. Another passed ball advanced Gaccione to third and he came around to score when Dunster smacked a single to center.

“It’s definitely a weight off my shoulders and a lot easier to throw when you get a lot of runs on the board,” Hintzen said. “It also gives me some wiggle room to throw some pitches. It wasn’t just me that got back in the saddle, it was the whole team. We just came off a pretty hard losing streak, so now with this forward momentum, I think we can win a few games and get into the postseason.”

With the victory, Greenwich netted its eighth win of the season and upped its record to 8-6 overall. With time running out on the season, Big Red has its sights set on running the table on the remainder of its schedule.

“We have to win our games, it’s as simple as that,” Tarantino said. “Obviously we treat all our opponents the same and respect them, but we need to get these next few victories. We have to win the week and go 4-0 in my opinion. I know six losses will get us in the FCIACs, but I’m not so sure about seven. We have a shot to do it.”

The Cardinals just came off a tough stretch where they were wondering if they were ever going to win a again. After falling to Westhill 4-3, Big Red upended Norwalk 3-1. That started a streak where Greenwich played four one-run games, losing to Wilton 2-1 in nine innings, Darien 5-4 in eight innings and Fairfield Ludlowe 3-2. The lone victory was to St. Joseph 5-4.

“It was frustrating,” Tarantino said. “Everything was getting more emphasized during that stretch. Besides Dunster and (Jonathan) Dreher, they are all new starters here. We are asking a lot from them and with that I think there is a lot of pressure on them. It was a frustrating stretch, but moving on if we learn from it and grow, we are going to be a tough team to beat.”

If Greenwich wants to make a run, there’s no better time than the present. Starting with Tuesday’s game against Harding High School, all but one of the six remaining games will be played at Greenwich High School.

In addition, both Harding and Bassick have not won a game yet this season. Trinity, Brien McMahon and Stamford high schools all have below .500 records. Greenwich’s biggest threat during the stretch run will be on May 19 when they travel to Trumbull High School for a game that gets underway at 6.

“We need to play good, clean baseball,” Tarantino said. “We didn’t make any errors today against Central and we swung the bats. That was great to see. If we do those two things, it doesn’t matter who we play because I think we can beat anybody. Our pitching has been solid all year and I don’t expect that to stop now. We have beaten four of the top eight teams in the FCIAC. We just need to get hot and we need to play our best baseball at the end of the year. Hopefully we can do that now.”

While the pitching, led by Dunster and Hintzen, still in top form, Tarantino said that the defense has been something that has been improved upon a lot this season.

“Overall we made great strides, whether situationally or the routine plays,” Tarantino said. “That’s going to be a big help going into the remaining games. Now if we can just swing the bats and get three or four runs, I think we are right there.”

Despite the ups and downs of the baseball season for Big Red, the one constant has been the way the team battles for each other.

“The kids here play seven innings, both offensively and defensively,” Tarantino said. “When things aren’t going so well, they don’t complain. That gives us a chance to win every time we are out there. Against St. Joseph’s, that worked and we won. In a couple of tight one-run games, it didn’t work out. The way things were going, they could have thrown in the towel, but they didn’t. Baseball is a frustrating game when you’re not hitting for a week of 10 days. In the big leagues it isn’t a big deal because you have another 155 games. In the FCIAC you can’t afford another slip up.”

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