The New Canaan baseball team may be embarking on a new season, but its approach on the diamond is ever the same.
Under the guidance of coach Mitch Hoffman, the Rams returned to the field for the first time in 2014 to beat Stamford in a home scrimmage at Mead Park. After allowing a pair of early runs, New Canaan battled back with a number of extra base hits and stolen bases to stake victory.
"It was a nice first day out here," Hoffman said. "We got some kinks out, got to see a couple kids who haven't been out there. For a first day, it wasn't bad."
Winning a Connecticut Class L championship has not altered the high aim of the Rams, which is set always on winning both conference and state titles.
"Before we were fighting for a state championship, now we're fighting not to give it back," Hoffman said. "Last year was last year, but we stay with the same approach. Today, we were aggressive, and we came out swinging the bats ... I think each season and group is different, but the core group of guys this year is the same, which is good."
While the Rams do welcome back a number of critical upperclassmen, New Canaan's biggest obstacle to capturing the title again will be overcoming the loss of the team's departed seniors, most notably the 2013 FCIAC player of the year Andrew Casali.
Currently a freshman at UMBC, Casali tossed a one-hitter against Waterford in the Class L final to catcher Casey Ouelette, his former classmate and senior co-captain. Ouelette, who gunned down a North Haven runner to end the Rams' semifinal victory that advanced them to the title game, served as a key cog in the New Canaan lineup. First baseman Brian Moran and infielder Grady Amrheim also played critical roles in the school's first state title since 1950.
Perhaps the most impressive feat accomplished by the graduating class of 2013 was not its championship send-off, but rather the fact it helped to elevate the program to newer heights in every season dating back to its freshman campaign of 2009. After failing to qualify for the CIAC state tournament, Casali and Co. brought the Rams to the state semifinals during their sophomore year and then the championship game the following season.
Present senior captains J.R. Anderson, Eric Jager, Nick Cascione, Matt Toth and Dan Rajkowski, a few of whom also served as captains for other Ram teams, must now take the reins. Anderson and Rajkowski will be relied upon to hold down opposing lineups from the mound, as Jager, Cascione and Toth snare the hit balls behind them. Rajkowski threw a perfect sixth inning against the Black Knights and recorded a couple of strikeouts.
Despite all the accomplishments of their predecessors, this group can still achieve something the class ahead of them never could: an FCIAC championship. New Canaan last wore the conference crown in 2006.
The Rams season opener is set for Wednesday, April 11, at home against New Fairfield. The first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at 4:15 p.m.