By Mike Cardillo

mcardillo@ctpost.com

The FCIAC baseball playoffs are looming larger and larger on the horizon. Staples and St. Joseph each got a taste of the taunt, drama-filled play typical of the poststeason Friday afternoon during the Wreckers' 5-4 victory.

The win left Staples feeling as if it assured itself a place in the league playoffs, which are scheduled to begin on May 23.

And the Wreckers (13-4, 12-4 FCIAC) celebrated accordingly, taking a little extra delight in defeating the newly minted No. 1 team in the state media poll.

"The regular season is all about playing for seeding in the tournament," Wreckers coach Jack McFarland said. "We really felt if we could get to 12 (wins) we'd get a ticket to that tournament. We felt like we punched our ticket today."

Meanwhile St. Joseph (15-2, 13-2) was left to do a little soul-searching after a performance coach Jim Chaves labeled "flat."

The one-pitch, do-or-die feel of the playoffs came to roost in the top of the sixth with Staples ahead 5-2.

After giving up three straight hits to start the game -- including a leadoff homer by Chris McCormack -- Staples starter Jim Kopack had settled into a groove. The righty only gave up one hit after the first, until finding himself in big trouble in the sixth.

Joe Burns drew a leadoff walk, followed by Tyler Matakevich's looping opposite-field ball to right, which Staples right fielder Ryan Burke dove to catch near the foul line only for it to bounce off his glove and roll behind him. It allowed Burns to score and Matakevich to slide into third.

Kopack was replaced by Bryan Terzian, who promptly gave up a single to Alexis Guadalupe to make it 5-4. After a flyout to the deepest part of center field by Jason Holcomb, Terzian walked Jerry Kramer and Alex Carboni to load the bases with one out.

Facing a crucial moment, McFarland brought in ace lefty Rob Gau on one day's rest.

"They warned me if the game was close to be ready," said Gau, who started Staples' win on Wednesday over Wilton. "There were three lefties up in a row. I said, `let me at 'em.'"

It didn't take long for Gau to stifle the St. Joseph rally. First, he got Jonathan Vazquez to ground out to the drawn in infield, forcing out Guadalupe at home. Then Gau got McCormack on a grounder to second.

"To have the hammer like that was big," McFarland said.

Staples went ahead in the bottom of the first on Tyler Jacob's two-out, three-run homer to deep left-center off St. Joseph lefty starter Mitchell Paz.

The Wreckers increased their lead in the third, thanks to some mistakes from the Cadets. Colin McCarthy's one-out single scored Mike Scott from second. The errant throw from the outfield allowed McCarthy to advance an extra base. With two outs Terzian grounded to Matakevich at third, but his throw was wild and McCarthy scored from second.

"We beat ourselves out there," Matakevich said. "Routine plays, we didn't make them."

St. Joseph did have a possible built-in excuse for its self -proclaimed "flat" performance, as the school's prom took place on Thursday night, less than 24 hours before the first pitch. Chaves and Matakevich said that wasn't an acceptable answer nor was it the reason for some of the Cadets' lapses in the field.

"I'm not looking to make any excuses," Chaves said. "That first inning completely masked how flat we were. I think it was a bit fluky. ... We're going on body language and we weren't handling ourselves out in the field."