The 2020 Staples High School baseball team could not defend its ’19 state and FCIAC championships — because there was no ’20 season. COVID-19 knocked out all spring sports in the state.
But the Wrecker coaches and Diamond Club boosters found a way to honor the athletes who would have played.
Yesterday, they held a traditional “Senior Day” in a very non-traditional way.
Family members lined the field — masked and socially distanced, of course.
A guest speaker — Staples alum Dave Ruden, publisher of the all-FCIAC, all-the-time sports site The Ruden Report — praised the players and the program.
Dave Ruden addresses the crowd.
Coach Jack McFarland presented the school’s 2 highest awards — Block “S” trophies — to well-deserving recipients.
Most Valuable Player honors went to all the seniors.
And the Coaches’ Award was presented to longtime manager/superfan/ inspiration Dylan Curran. He gave a gracious speech, thanking each coach and every player for always including him and making him feel a part of the team.
He promised he would always come back to cheer Staples on, from his next destination: Sacred Heart University.
Dylan Curran (Photos/Chris Greer)
The day ended with the unveiling of a plaque. It noted that the Wreckers were ranked #31 in a national pre-season poll. We’ll never know where they would have ended up, if they had actually played games.
It wasn’t the Senior Day any of the Wreckers — or their friends and families — dreamed of.
But considering the coronavirus circumstances, it was a grand slam.
Six years ago, 11 6th and 7th grade baseball players mesmerized Westport.
The youngsters battled their way through through local, state and regional competition. They won in blowouts, and in nail-biting fashion.
They kept winning — all the way to the Little League World Series finals, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
In 2013, Westport Little League All-Stars (front from left) Tatin Llamas, Chris Drbal and Chad Knight, plus Harry Azadian (rear) celebrated one of their many wins.
The dream ended in the championship game — on national TV — but they returned home to a heroes’ welcome.
It was a fantastic run. Unfortunately, too many times in youth sports, success at an early age is a recipe for disaster later on.
All that attention turns their heads. Other kids catch up — and surpass them. They discover other interests. Or they burn out.
Not every 12-year-old gets interviewed by ESPN. Harry Azadian did.
Thankfully, that is definitely not the case here.
Six years later, the Westport Little League All-Stars have become stars of the Staples High School baseball team.
Two years ago, they won the state LL (extra large schools) championship. This year, they’re battling for it again.
It’s a bittersweet time for them — and their parents. Four of the 11 players are seniors (the other 7 graduated last year). They’ve been together since they were 9 years old.
Soon — hopefully later rather than sooner, but in a single-elimination tournament, you never know — they will play their last game together.
Drew Rogers (7) and Chad Knight (27) celebrate. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)
It’s an especially emotional time for Tim Rogers. He was their head coach, from those 9-year-old days through Williamsport, then beyond in travel baseball.
He’s watched with pride — and helped immensely — as his son Drew, and fellow seniors Harry Azadian, Chad Knight, Charlie Roof, have grown as baseball players.
And grown up, from boys into young men.
Rogers is proud of many things. One is that they handled that Little League World Series experience so well. Despite the demands of the sport — and the media — they were still kids. They met other players from around the world. They hung out, and made friends.
Enjoying the 2013 parade, in the streets of Williamsport.
Then they took that experience, and brought it into the rest of their lives far beyond Williamsport.
Rogers is also proud that they have continued to play — and love — baseball. No one burned out. No one quit. No one peaked as a 12-year-old.
He is proud that 2 years ago — when other All-Stars, including Matt Stone, Tatin Llamas, Max Popken, Chris Drbal and Alex Reiner were still playing together — Staples beat 4-time defending state champion Amity High 5-1, in the LL title game.
Four years after the Little League World Series: pure joy, as Staples stops 4-time defending champion Amity High in the state class LL final.
All along, Rogers says, “they’ve found a way to win. They’re deep as a team, but that winning mentality is something intangible.”
He’s proud that they have become leaders. His son, Azadian and Knight are captains of this year’s Wreckers. They’re passing their competitiveness and values on to the younger players.
Rogers is proud that the Little League World Series finalists remained poised and humble. Ever since Williamsport, whenever they’re interviewed, they’ve put baseball in perspective.
Rogers may be proudest though that the longtime teammates still love being together. Through all their success — and occasional disappointments — they’ve remained close friends.
Captains (from left) Drew Rogers, Chad Knight and Harry Azadian, with Staples coach Jack McFarland. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)
Staples’ Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference is a brutal league. The Wreckers have had to fight for what they’ve gotten, every year.
This spring, they finished with the best record. On Wednesday night they avenged a regular season defeat to Fairfield Ludlowe by winning the FCIAC championship in storybook fashion.
Jake D’Amico — one of those younger players — drove in the winning run. On a 3-2 pitch. With 2 outs. In the bottom of the last inning.
Knight pitched a complete game, giving up only 2 hits and striking out 5.
Chad Knight (center) jumps for joy, as the Wreckers race onto the field after their dramatic FCIAC title win. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)
The final quest — the state championship — starts Tuesday.
Graduations are always wonderful, and hard. For Rogers — who just turned 50, and saw his oldest son graduate from college — watching Drew and his baseball teammates march down the aisle, and out of high school, will be “one more step in my process,” he laughs.
So right now, he — and all the other parents, who have been together through so much and so long — are hoping the season lasts as long as it can.
So do the boys of so many summers.
The FCIAC champion 2019 Staples High School baseball team. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)
Over the past 4 years, Amity High School achieved legendary status in Connecticut high school baseball. The Woodbridge school won 4 consecutive state championships — including an 8-1 drubbing of Staples in the 2015 title game.
That squad included several players from Westport’s storied 2013 Little League all-star team.
It took them 2 years, but today the Wreckers wreaked revenge.
A 2-run home run by Chad Knight — the Staples pitcher, and a mainstay of that Little League squad — staked the 11th-ranked Westporters to a 5-1 victory.
The game — at Middletown’s Parker Field — snapped the 1st-seeded Spartans’ spectacular streak of 24 straight state tournament wins. In denying Amity a 5th straight crown, Staples won their own 1st baseball state title since 2001.
(Graphic courtesy of @StaplesSports Instagram and Twitter)
Knight — just a sophomore — has already committed to Duke University. Senior Ben Casparius has had his own tremendous year. The University of North Carolina commit was named Gatorade Connecticut Baseball Player of the Year.
Congratulations to head coach Jack McFarland, his staff, and especially all the state champion Wreckers.
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