The last time New Canaan Rams baseball team won a State Title, the high school was located where the present-day Police Station is now housed, Harry Truman was president, and the top songs in the country were from artists such as Perry Como, The Andrews Sisters, and Nat King Cole.
63 years later, a truly “Unforgettable” team added a second trophy to the NCHS case.
Led by senior co-captain Andrew Casali’s complete game 1-hitter, and the Rams blanked Waterford 3-0 to win the Class L title, the first for New Canaan since 1950.
“A lot of hard work has truly paid off for these kids, and that’s the most important thing for me,” said Head Coach Mitch Hoffman. “You basically go through the last possible day of the season, and last year obviously it didn’t end in our favor and this year it obviously did.”
“The feeling doesn’t really hit you that you won the game until you’re standing around with your teammates, and you start talking about that you just won the State championship,” said senior Brian Moran, who drove in the Rams’ first run with a 2-out, first-inning double. “We were there last year and had a chance to set history and we didn’t do it, and we did it this year, finally.”
“Unreal...it hasn’t really sunk in yet, it’s crazy,” said senior co-captain Casey Ouellette, whose 2nd inning sac fly extended New Canaan’s lead to 2-0. “63 years. To go into gym class and see on the banner on the wall that says 1950 – it was kind of depressing. Now we put 2013 up there, and it will always carry our names with it.”
Indeed, the names Casali, Ouellette, Moran, Hoffman and the other New Canaan ballplayers will join the likes of Gene Ready, Dinny Lapolla, Paul Torpey, and Ralph Scott…members of the 1950 championship team.
“It makes me feel good,” said Ready, the legendary winning pitcher of three complete games in a six-day span on the 1950 squad. “I was so proud because I know Casey Ouellette. I knew his grandfather, Lefty Ouellette and I know his father Larry. And it’s just so nice. And the Casali boy, I know his brother (Curt) who is now with the Rays.
“I’m happy for Mitch Hoffman, he’s a great coach,” continued Ready. “I knew him when he was at St. Luke’s. They just had a great team. They all got along well, played well together…it was a real team effort.”
Teamwork was the mantra for New Canaan in 2013, and the championship game was no excpetion. Despite only managing 2 hits against Waterford’s pitcher Jordan Hamler, the Rams manufactured runs with timely hitting, good baserunning, solid defense, and, of course, an extraordinary pitching effort from Casali.
In his 3rd start of the tournament, Casali saved his best for last, striking out 7 batters while walking 2 to go along with the one hit, a 4th-inning single by Waterford’s Seth Hoagland.
“Andrew Casali is the most complete high school baseball player in the state of Connecticut this year,” said Hoffman. “There is nobody that has more of an impact on their team than Andrew Casali. He does it with the bat, he does it with the glove, he does it on the mound. He does it in the dugout, he does it on the bus. He was on point, he just couldn’t miss and it showed.”
The Rams jumped out to a quick lead in the top of the 1st. After consecutive lineouts by Ouellette and Matt Toth, Casali was hit by a pitch. Up stepped Moran with 2 outs.
“All I saw in the first three at bats in front of me was that his fastball was straight, and wasn’t hard to hit, and he was leaving it up in the zone,” said Moran. “So I went into the at bat with the mentality that if he threw me a fastball, I’d take a swing at it. I think I got to 3-1 and he threw me a fastball inside that I happened to foul back, but I was on it. And then on the 3-2 pitch he left a fastball up in the zone and I just happened to drive it out to left-center.”
Casali, who was running on the pitch, scored easily, and New Canaan had a 1-0 lead.
“Brian was pumped up, he’s always pumped up,” said Ouellette. “It was awesome to jump out like that to give Andrew a little something to work with.”
And it was all that Casali would need. Relying mainly on his fastball with a few sliders mixed in, the senior hurler did not overpower, but relied on location and command, frustrating the Waterford hitters all afternoon.
New Canaan would add to their lead in the 2nd. Henry Lavieri drove a deep double to LF. After Alex Lapolice was hit by a pitch, Grady Amrhein drew a walk, setting the table for Ouellette, who hit a long sac fly to CF, scoring Lavieri and giving the Rams a 2-run lead.
“We work on it every day in batting practice…runners on third, less than 2 outs," said Hoffman. “Who better to have in there but 4-year starter, 2-year captain Casey Ouellette put the ball out there in the OF, and get it done.”
New Canaan added an unearned run in the 4th, and from there it was smooth sailing for Casali, who ended the game and sealed the championship with a called strike three.
“I didn’t give him a chance to make the call,” said Ouellette. “I was out of the crouch before he could do that. And it was the dog-pile, and it was crazy. I had never won anything big like that.”
“Hopefully today is a day for baseball and the town of New Canaan to totally embrace each other,” said Hoffman. “This year I got to take part in the youngest division in baseball with my son’s team, which had 96 kids. And the oldest team I got to be a part of and they had a State Championship.”
“Anytime you see that, to know that I was part of one of the greatest teams to ever play at New Canaan High School, when you think about it there’s only one other team that did what we just did,” said Moran. “It’s something that is really special and it puts a lot of confidence and pride with me.”