The 2021 Fairfield University baseball team will go down in history for their record-breaking season thus far. The Stags are currently the only unbeaten team in the nation, with a 14-0 record on the season, and a squeaky clean 13-0 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference record. Their win streak spans from the 2020 game at Stetson University when the Stags upended the Hatters 7-4 just before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 15-game stretch is nothing like the program has ever seen. Back in 1972, the Stags set the record of 10-straight triumphs, and almost 50 years later a double header against the Quinnipiac University Bobcats on April 7 shattered that record when Fairfield boasted two wins (6-3, 17-6) at home at the Alumni Baseball Diamond. Going into the day full of competition, Quinnipiac’s record was 2-11, 2-11 MAAC, while Fairfield’s was an impressive 9-0, 9-0 MAAC.
“I don’t think we go into games thinking we want to break records. It’s more or less everyone trying to do their job, fill their role and do it well and that’s what we’ve been doing lately,” said head coach Bill Currier.
In the earlier game in the bottom of the first, graduate student Dan Ryan singled down the left field line. A single by Justin Guerrera ‘22 sent Ryan to second, another single by graduate student Sean Cullen sent towards left field pushed Guerrera to make a run for third, pushing Ryan to score and putting the Stags on the board first. Trailing behind was Guerrera. Though Mike Becchetti ‘23 struck out at bat, Cullen was able to steal second and then capitalize on an error to take third, sending Guerrera home to add another run. This first inning started the momentum which the Stags would hold onto the entire day. Though the Bobcats would cut the Stags’ lead to just one run in the top of the sixth, Fairfield would hold them off. A home run by Charlie Pagliarini ‘23 would cause Becchetti to score. The Stags were up 6-3, and held onto that lead for the morning. Guerrera and Becchetti led the charge in scoring, with two runs apiece. Cullen, Becchetti, Giacomo Brancato ‘21, Pagliarini, Mike Caruso ‘21 and Griffin Watson ‘22 all registered hits.
These games were especially difficult for Becchetti, as he was grappling with grief. “This week I found myself playing with a heavy heart as my grandfather passed. He was my best friend who loved the game and [I wanted] to honor him,” he said. Nonetheless, this drove him to play even more passionately. “I will be playing the game harder than ever. As we continue to play we’re going to keep doing what we do best, play with a burning desire to win and protect the ‘Stag Dome’.”
Pressure was riding on the afternoon slate for the Stags to keep their undefeated title, but they held on, unfazed by external factors. Quinnipiac returned to the diamond with a vengeance, and rattled out three runs in the top of the first. Fairfield responded with a pair of points coming from an RBI by Mike Handal ‘22 and a score by Ryan. Things didn’t look promising for the Stags, but in the bottom of the fourth, they surged registering five points to reclaim the lead, 8-5. Quinnipiac would only notch one more run in the fifth inning, however Fairfield would shoot ahead. Handal had a stand out game with three runs in four at bats, while Guerrera had three of his own, and Cullen, Pagliarini, Caruso and Watson recorded a pair for themselves. The 17-6 victory was in favor of the Stags.
The Stags would enter the weekend with a swagger which no other team in the country would have, being undefeated with ten games under their belt. April 9 and April 10 were packed, with four games scheduled over two days. Friday and Saturday’s schedules mirrored each other, each with games planned for 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The weekend matches were pushed back a day due to inclement weather forecasted for Sunday, when the second day of competition was originally planned to take place.
The Stags displayed a true upper hand during both of Saturday’s games, blowing Rider University out of the water. The Rider Broncs had a respectable record of 10-5,10-5 MAAC, but they faltered against Fairfield. In the first game, Rider only began to chip away at their seven-run deficit in the top of the sixth inning, registering three runs under the overcast sky of Fairfield, Conn. Junior Michael Sansone was on the mound for 5.2 innings, delivering five strikeouts. Handal and Guerrera each had a pair of runs, while Ryan, Cullen Pagliarini and Caruso contributed to the blowout victory that early afternoon, 8-3 after seven innings. The win would be the program’s one thousandth in the 70 years since its establishment, and this milestone is a testament to the fact that this team is something special.
Their 1,001 win came just a few hours later in the day, when the Stags were unstoppable. In game two of four over the weekend stretch, the sun finally came out and Fairfield was on fire, burying Rider for the second time, 10-0. This time Jake Noviello ‘22 dished out pitches for the Stags, striking out seven Broncs.
On five singles and two walks, Fairfield scored four runs, as per FairfieldStags.com. By the bottom of the second, Guerrera had one run and one homerun, tallying eight homers to the season of the twelve games played. This puts him in fifth place in program history.
Closing out the weekend stint with Rider, Fairfield entered into their final day of play to wrap up the weekend on Saturday, April 10. The earlier half of the innings was made up of a quick seven innings which the Stags crushed with ease. Handal, Ryan and Cullen joined the two-hit club, while Guerrera and Ryan Strollo ‘23 each tallied a hit. The Stags shut out the Broncs, 5-0, giving them the substance to take on the nightcap with some confidence.
Senior Bryson Cafaro had a stand-out night, pitching six innings, and arguably being the backbone behind the final win of the series. He gave up only two hits and one walk, and struck out for batters. Unsurprisingly, Becchetti had two hits in four at-bats, while Handal and Cullen also amassed two hits. Out in the field, Cullen registered 12 putouts. Finishing what Cafaro started were graduate student Eli Oliphant and Jason Hebner ‘21 who did their part in holding off the Broncs. The Stags won in another shutout, 6-0.
Graduate student John Signore and senior Cafaro pitched at least six shutout innings each throughout Saturday’s games. Notably, Signore also nabbed his 20th career win in noon’s game, pitching all seven innings, without walking a single Bronc. This win puts him in second place for all-time wins for pitchers in the program. Signore has an earned run average of 0.49 in 18.1 innings while Cafaro has a 0.90 in 10 innings.
“We had a great series this weekend against Rider. The pitchers were dealing and the hitters continued to smash the baseball,” noted Becchetti.
Guerrera said, “It’s been a great couple of weeks for us. We have really clicked as a team and are firing on all cylinders. Our pitchers have done a great job keeping the other team from scoring, the defense has been solid, and our offense has given us the leads we’ve needed to win.”
The Stags have the lowest WHIP in the country, with 0.94, thanks to the incredible pitching squad that the team has. In addition, they are the only Division I team with a WHIP under 1.00, per the Fairfield Athletics website. The Stags also lead America in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, with stats of .336, .547 and .432 respectively. This performance has given them the honor of being voted as the number one team in the New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association poll, earning ten points.
“It’s always nice to be voted by other coaches in New England where they think you rate among the other schools but it is April 13th and it would be much more meaningful to have that number one ranking at the end of May. We’re excited where we’re at, we’re doing well, we’re trying to keep our heads down and working hard and making sure we’re doing the kind of things we need to do to stay successful,” said Currier in a press release by the department of athletics.
The Stags are slated to take on interstate conference rivals, Quinnipiac, on April 14 for a midweek couple of games with the home-field advantage yet again. “I am feeling very confident that this team can keep producing and give us the best opportunity to compete for a MAAC championship. We’ve had a great start but we need to stay focused and keep working hard,” remarked Guerrera. They have 18 games left on the calendar before the 2021 MAAC Championship Quarterfinals which are scheduled for late May, but if they stay this course, the Stags are bound for success.
“We have the strength of the league coming up in the next few weekends coming up so we have a lot of competition to go, and in baseball anything can go wrong in any minute. We just keep doing what we do and controlling the emotions and keep doing our job and we will be in good shape,” remarked Currier.