By John Goralski
Andrew Goralski stepped off first base to reach for a hard line drive, but the ball skipped past him on the infield dirt. It wasn’t an error. Most defenses would have surrendered to a well-earned hit. Southington’s defense wasn’t ready to give up.
Matt DiNello was already in position, sliding behind Goralski to snatch up the ball. Dave Palladino had already cast aside his catcher’s mask to back up first base, but Brett Susi was already in full stride from the pitcher’s mound.
DiNello side armed a throw to Susi. The umpire signaled the out, and the Blue Knight defense stepped back in formation to face Conard’s next threat.
“It’s those little things that people might not even notice,” said Blue Knight coach Charlie Lembo. “Everyone was right where they’re supposed to be, and those are the types of things that a coach wants to see as you get to the end of the season. Errors are going to happen. Strikeouts are going to happen, and pop-ups with bases loaded are going to happen. As long as people are where they’re supposed to be, I know it’s starting to click.”
The Knights are far from finished as they approach their final week. With just two games remaining, Lembo said that he’s not even thinking about his tournament rotation. At 15-3, the Knights have already secured a tournament berth and a home game. At 10-2 in the CCC West, Southington has already secured a share of the conference title.
That would be enough for most teams, but the Knights still have something to prove.
“We have two games left and a share of the division, but I know that these guys don’t want to share it,” said Lembo. “We want to win the division outright, but we’re also playing for seeding. Greenwich should end up 17-3, and we beat them. Amity could end up 17-3, and I think we have them by lot. We could end up with the third seed, and then we’ll focus on our tournament goals.”
So strap yourself in. The Knights are just getting started.
“Let’s get through the regular season and keep playing well,” said Lembo. “Then, we’ll turn our focus to the state tournament.”
Last week, the Knights sandwiched a rare loss with a pair of lopsided shutouts as they moved one step closer to their ultimate goal—home field advantage. Through 18 games, the Knights have out-scored opponents, 120-31. The offense is averaging almost seven runs per game. The team’s batting average is hovering well over .300, and the team’s ERA is one of the lowest in years. Southington is holding teams to just 1.7 runs per contest with the most difficult regular season schedule of any of the top 10 teams in Class LL.
It seems to be coming together at the right time, and the offense is finally clicking from top to bottom.
On Monday, leadoff hitter Ted Shaw went 4-for-4 with a double and three runs to spark a 14-hit offense to an 11-0 win over Farmington. Dave Palladino (3-for-3, 3 RBI) hit a homerun, and the Knights opened up a 9-0 lead by the second inning.
On Friday, Matt Sirois went 4-for-4 with two runs and two RBI to pace a 17 hitt offense during a 13-0 win over Simsbury. Justin Rose (3-for-4) drove in four runs. DiNello (2-for-4, 3 runs), Rose, and Palladino scored home runs, and Southington opened a 6-0 lead by the second inning.
Even in a 5-2 loss to Conard, Southington out-hit the Chieftains and enjoyed an early lead.
“We got two runs in the first inning, and we probably should have had four,” said Lembo. “They play on a field with no fence, so they were playing us really deep. We hit some balls really hard, but they made some really nice plays in the outfield.”
On the mound, Southington has shown that it doesn’t matter which pitcher they turn to. On Monday, Goralski (4-0) teamed with Kyle Cole and Joe Hayes for a four-hit shutout. On Friday, Susi claimed his seventh win in as many starts, allowing just three hits through six scoreless inning before turning the ball over to Hayes for a scoreless seventh.
Even in the loss to conard, Joe Rivera struck out seven with five walks and three hits over five innings, and Cole finished the game out with a scoreless inning on the mound.
“Joe Rivera is 4-2, but he’s only given up four hits in those two losses,” said Lembo. “He’s had that kind of hard-luck tag, but hopefully it turns around next week. We’re going to need all three of them in the tournament.”
Now the Knights will look to complete their run at a CCC West title with games against New Britain and Hall. With two wins, they’ll enjoy home field advantage until the tournament turns to neutral fields. Then Lembo will think about a state title run.
Is this the year? We’ll find out.
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