During the preseason, Wilton High baseball coach Tim Eagen said he would quickly throw some of his young players into the deep end to get varsity experience.
Eagen did so in the season opener against Joel Barlow on Monday and nobody sank.
Scoring four runs in the top of the seventh inning, Wilton rallied to beat the Falcons, 9-7, in a non-conference game in Redding.
While there was some treading of water for Wilton’s newcomers, there was also a shark in the pool.
Making his first varsity appearance, junior first baseman John Walsh had a day to remember. Walsh went 4-for-4 with two doubles, two RBIs, two runs scored, and a stolen base, and he also made an exceptional catch of a wind-blown pop-up in foul territory.
The game was uneven, with sloppiness and brilliance intertwined. Wilton drew first blood with two outs in the second inning when Parker Ward singled, Drew Phillips walked, and sophomore Luca Wentzel whacked a base hit to center field. The ball was misplayed, and then a pair of successive overthrows allowed Wentzel, a speed merchant, to race home for a 3-0 lead.
The Warriors had their costly, awkward moments in the bottom of the third.
Ethan Leinberger was on the mound for Wilton, and he deserved better. Leinberger got the first out, but a pair of infield errors and a walk loaded the bases. Rory Lynch then socked a triple to deep center field and eventually came home on a passed ball. A walk and two base hits (one error-aided) brought in the fifth and final unearned run of the inning, giving Barlow a 5-3 lead.
But Wilton evened things up in the fifth. Cole Judelson reached on an infield hit, and Walsh doubled him home with a shot to left. Chris Drummond hammered a double to left as well, knocking in Walsh to knot the score at 5-5.
Drummond, who relieved Leinberger, chalked up a one-two-three fourth. In the fifth, he struck out the first two batters he faced, looking almost invincible as he did so. But then it all went south as the sophomore couldn’t find the plate. Three straight walks brought on Nick Sheehan, who battled but could not avoid yielding a bases-loaded walk.
Sheehan should have been out of the inning on a routine ground ball to short but the base wasn’t covered, and Lucas Uriarte’s diving tag of the bag was late, with another run scoring on the play
Sheehan did get the next hitter for an inning-ending groundout, but the Warriors were now down 7-5 and their prospects looked grim when Lynch set them down easily in the top of the sixth.
Sheehan held serve by keeping Barlow scoreless in the bottom of the inning, setting the stage for Wilton’s four-run rally in the top of the seventh.
Wentzel led off with a walk and John McMahon singled to left. With one out, Walsh’s second double of the game plated Wentzel, leaving runners at second and third. Regan Kahal’s pinch-hit outfield fly to right fell between two outfielders for a critical RBI base hit to tie the game at 7-7.
After Walsh scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, Chris Tienken walked and Uriarte beat out a potential double-play grounder, enabling pinch-runner Sam Strazza to score the Warriors’ ninth run.
A two-run lead in this game meant little, and it fell on McMahon, a sophomore, to finish off Barlow in the bottom of the seventh. Seven walks had bedeviled Wilton pitchers through the first six innings, but that was now history as McMahon got ahead on every batter, pounding the strike zone and retiring the side in order on eight pitches.
“A win is a win,” Eagen said. “Barlow has a scrappy team and we needed everything we had to beat them. We had a lot of positives today. The way Walsh played and [how] John McMahon really closed things out for us. He has so much poise for being so young.”