By John Goralski
Four baseball players sat at a table in the high school and shifted in their seats as they studied the contracts before them. A small collection of hats was scattered in front of them. Each one was a different color, and each one marked a different destination.
With a collective breath, they snatched up their pens and began to write…
This week kicked off the season for college signings and five locals have already committed to playing sports at the next level.
It usually happens in an intimate setting with the athlete enjoying his or her moment in the spotlight surrounded by family, friends, and coaches. The Blue Knights decided to do it as a group.
“It’s very important to us. We think of ourselves as a family, so it’s the overall success that matters the most,” said Brett Susi. “It’s great individually, but the four of us are really close. I’m lucky to play with them. I’m happy for me, but I’m happy for all of us.”
All four have expectations to contribute right away. Susi will try to work himself into the NCAA Division I pitching rotation at Central Connecticut State University while he pursues studies in either physical education or communications. He talked to coaches from Quinnipiac College, Western Connecticut State University, and Lafayette College, but settled on the Blue Devils as his first choice.
“It’s always been my goal,” said Susi. “Central’s been in my eyes for a while. I’ve always wanted that level of competition, and to know that I’ve achieved it is a really good feeling.”
This spring, Ted Shaw will defend Susi when he’s on the mound. Next year, they’ll be rivals. Shaw will also try to work his way into a Division I lineup as a freshman at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. He plans to study sports management and hopes to contend for an infield position for the Pioneers for a chance to step in the batter’s box to face his former teammate.
Shaw said that he wasn’t surprised that so many of his teammates will be playing at the next level. It’s a credit to the success of the local program.
“Scouts come to see our teams play because they know that we’re always good. There’s always talent here, and I think it’s great to be a part of this,” he said. “I’ve played in a couple of championships, and that was awesome, but this is the next step that all of us need to get to. It’s exciting.”
Matt DiNello expects to step right onto the varsity field as a freshman pitcher and infielder at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. DiNello received interest from local Division I programs, but decided that the D-II Warriors were a better fit academically as he pursues studies in sports medicine.
“It was always my goal to play college baseball, but to go to a school with good academics and a good sports medicine program that I can get involved in while still getting to play baseball?” he said. “I loved the school, and I knew the coach before. I knew that this was a team that I could come into and battle for a spot. Hopefully, I can make an impact in my first year.”
Matt Sirois settled on Norwich University in Vermont. He plans to play for the D-III baseball program but selected the school for its military connections. Norwich is the oldest of six senior military colleges and is recognized as the birthplace of ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps).
“Playing baseball is a bonus,” Sirois said. “I applied to Norwich first, and I got accepted before I applied to any other ones. It was my top choice so it saved me the time of applying to other schools. Their third baseman is graduating the year before I come in, so I should be able to play right away.”
The four-man signing came one day after Rachel Harvey signed her commitment to play at the University of Maine. This spring will be Harvey’s fourth varsity season for the Lady Knight softball team, and that was perfect preparation for the Division I Black Bears. The catcher expects to play right away while she pursues an academic career in speech and language pathology.
“I’m really excited. This is something that I’ve been working for pretty much my whole life, and it’s just surreal that this is happening,” she said. “It takes a lot of stress off my shoulders. Now I get to enjoy my senior year, but it also makes me feel good that I made my family proud. All the hard work paid off.”
Lady Knight coach John Bores said that coaches liked Harvey’s endurance. They liked her arm and her contact at the plate. Bores said that her steadiness behind the plate will be a strength for the Black Bears.
“You’ve got to have a good catcher that can block the ball, catch the ball, and calm the pitcher down,” he said. “She controls the game, and she’s been a four-year starter. She caught a little bit her freshman year and played third base. In her sophomore year, she caught a lot. Last year, she was the girl. This year, she’ll be the woman.”
Southington Athletic Director Eric Swallow said that he expects more college signings in the upcoming weeks, and he said that it’s a credit to the entire sports program, coaches, and student-athletes.
“This is really what it’s all about. This is the big picture,” he said. “High school is a stepping stone. College is another stepping stone. This is a positive reflection on where we’ve been able to come as an overall program.”
Swallow said that it’s easy to lose sight of academic accomplishments in the sea of sports statistics, but he pointed out that ‘student’ comes before ‘athlete’ in student-athlete. Southington has graduated a number of athletes into the top ranks of collegiate play, and he said that it serves as an inspiration for underclassmen.
“It’s not just about playing a sport for 90 days. You’ve got to make that commitment for more than 300 days,” he said. “That means off-season conditioning, hard work in the classroom, and basically putting yourself in a position to have success. That’s what it’s all about. You can’t just hope for it. You’ve got to work for it.”
That’s just what these five students have done.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.