If the FCIAC baseball tournament were to have begun Friday, league titans Greenwich and Staples would have squared off in the first round.
And even through Friday's game between the Wreckers and Cardinals was a regular-season matchup, it certainly had a postseason feel.
The Wreckers showed just how much of a threat they could be to the first-place Cardinals should the teams meet with more on the line.
Frank Vartuli scored the winning run in the top of the sixth inning off a Greenwich throwing error as Staples edged the Cardinals 3-2 on the road, sending the hosts to just their third loss of the season.
"It's huge for us," Staples coach Jack McFarland said. "We're trying to climb up the ladder, move up a spot in the FCIACs and that's what we're fighting for. We understand the regular season is played just to get in the FCIAC tournament; Greenwich found that out last year. We're trying to punch our ticket."
The Wreckers (11-6, 9-6 FCIAC), who won for the sixth time in seven games, broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth. Noah Yokoi led off the frame with a single before Vartuli singled and Nick Vega walked to load the bases with one out. Pinch-hitter Bryan Porter hit a chopper off Greenwich reliever Kyle Dunster that appeared to be an easy double play ball, but the throw from home to first went wide of the bag, allowing Vartuli to motor home from second.
"We played good situational baseball," McFarland said. "We got bunts down, we played great defense. Our pitching was solid and we were able to get some good swings."
Greenwich (13-3, 12-2) had a pair of chances to tie the game late. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Cardinals got runners on first and second with two outs. In stepped reliever Alec Johnson for the Wreckers, who got Ricky Okazaki to fly out to center.
"It was a big situation," Johnson said. "I needed to come in and throw strikes and I was able to do that today."
The Wreckers weren't out of the woods yet with standout Taylor Olmstead slated to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Johnson got Olmstead to pop out on the first pitch of the at-bat, but then allowed a bunt single and a stolen base, which put the tying run in scoring position. Johnson, however, settled in and got Cameron Fennell to pop out to right to end it.
"(Olmstead) is a good hitter, but I'm also a good pitcher," Johnson said. "He's obviously a great hitter that can put one out of here very easily. I just tried to get ahead of him early and stay ahead."
The Cardinals were involved in just one one-run game prior to Friday after winning six of them in their undefeated regular season a year ago. But the Cardinals were unable to get the clutch hit on Friday despite drawing eight walks and collecting four singles.
"We didn't get the big hit today," Greenwich coach Mike Mora said. "That's pretty much it; hits, walks, whatever. We didn't get the big hit and that's baseball. We haven't been in too many close games so we're going to use this as a learning experience."
Ryan Marks was solid on the mound for the Cardinals in defeat. The senior scattered eight hits over 5ï»¿ 2/3 innings and gave up a pair of runs on sacrifice flys. Despite a meeting with rival Trumbull in a rematch of the FCIAC championship Saturday morning, Mora went with his ace in an attempt to help preserve the top seed in the conference.
"(Marks) did very well; he pitched out of some jams," Mora said. "I don't think he had his best fastball today, but he had enough to put us in a position to win, and against a good hitting team like Staples that's all you can ask for.
The Wreckers will visit Trumbull on Monday.
"We are peaking at the right time," Johnson said. "We are coming out of our shells and playing good baseball. For us it's been focus. We are playing Staples baseball the way it's supposed to be played."
Ryan Lacey is a freelance writer
Staples 3, Greenwich 2
STAPLES 001 011 0--3 8 1
GREENWICH 002 000 0--2 4 2
Records: Staples 11-6, 9-6 FCIAC; Greenwich 13-3, 12-2. Batteries: S--Rob Vallone (W 2-0), Alec Johnson (S) and Noah Yokoi; G--Ryan Marks (L), Kyle Dunster and Jon Dreher. Highlights: S--James Frusciante went 1-for-3 with a double, walk and a run scored. Eli Andrew went 2-for-3.