by John Goralski
Coach Marc Verderame studied his players as they loosened up before a double-header with Torrington on Sunday, June 16. Most American Legion baseball teams already have a week or two of competition under their belts.
For Verderame, this seemed more like a tryout than an opening day for the summer season. With Southington High School’s annual run at a postseason title, it left the coach scrambling to assemble his team. Games were postponed while the Knights surged toward the championship game. Tryouts were canceled as his athletes continued their high school careers.
It’s business as usual for the summer coach, now in his third season with Southington Post 72. He’s almost come to expect it, and he wouldn’t want anything less.
“This team has had almost a week off. We haven’t played much, and we haven’t been able to practice with all the rain,” said the coach. “When you’re contending for a state championship year after year, you get used to it. These guys are resilient, and they love to play. I’m not worried.”
And why should he be worried? His program returns most of the players that surged into last summer’s postseason. The fact that so many were challenging for a high school state title means that they return with even more experience and confidence.
Verderame loves pushing off the start of his season to accommodate the high school team. That’s a good sign of things to come. Last year the high school team advanced into the semifinals, and the legion team captured their first Zone 1 title since 1996 and rallied for a 14-inning victory in the opening round of the legion state tournament.
This year, the high school team went one step further, and Verderame expects to carry that momentum into the summer.
“Our goal is to win the zone, and our next goal is to win the state championship,” said the coach. “Expectations are really high for us, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t be. In a one-game situation, we have three pitchers that are better than most team’s aces. We have the talent this year. We just have to get lucky and see what happens.”
Pitching could be a key to the summer success, and Southington has a host of talented pitchers. Brett Susi pitched a complete game shutout in the first game of the double header, scattering six hits and five strikeouts over seven inning to get a 3-0 win. Craig Frobel returned from college to surrender just two unearned runs over six innings in game two.
Josh Dobratz struggled in his first pitching appearance in almost two years, but Andrew Goralski earned the save with four pitches as Southington held on for a 9-6 win.
Susi, Frobel, Goralski, and Joe Rivera will be Southington’s main rotation, but the locals will continue to sprinkle in players like Dobratz and Matt DiNello to fill out their lineup.
“In legion baseball you have so many games that you sometimes have to pitch kids that don’t have a lot of experience or haven’t pitched all year. You have to test them out. You have to see what they have at some point. Josh might not have had his best stuff today, but you’ll see him pitch better the next time,” said Verderame. “We have one of the better bullpens that we’ve had in a while. Last year we did it more on guts than talent. That’s what made it so fun for me, but this year we have guts and talent. They are all experienced players.”
Defensively, Post 72 boasts a talented lineup at every position. The infield will be the same as this year’s high school team with Goralski at first base, Matt DiNello at second, Ted Shaw at shortstop, Matt Sirois at third, and Dave Palladino behind the plate. Ben Nichols, Joe Daigle, Junior Nichols, Dobratz, Mike Rogalski, and Zach Susi give the locals depth at every position.
“Collectively, it’s one of the best infields that I’ve ever had as a coach,” said Verderame. “I think it may be right up there as one of the best that Southington has seen—defensively and offensively. They can all hit. They can all field. It isn’t like we have one guy out for his defense and another one out there because he can hit. They are all solid players that should all be playing in college.”
The outfield is just as talented. Rivera will be in center field when he’s not on the mound. Brett Shaw will start in left field. Matt Santovassi, a former St. Paul High School standout, will anchor the locals in right field. Chris Bunko, Daigle, Dobratz, and Susi could all see time in the outfield.
“We have a lot of speed out there, and that’s what you want to have,” Verderame said. “They can get to almost any ball, and that’s what you need. Then, they’ve all got good arms.”
At the plate, Verderame promises to stay aggressive and take whatever opponents give them. DiNello led the team in the opening week, going 3-for-3 with three walks, two doubles, three runs scored, and an RBI. Ted Shaw (3-for-6) and Sirois (2-for-4) have both gotten off to a strong start, and the team has already combined for 12 stolen bases in two games.
“That’s what we’re going to do,” said the coach. “We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to do suicide squeezes, bunts, and steals. We had 98 steals last year in 30 games. This year, we’re going to go for 100.”
Can they win the zone again? Can they win their first state title since 1993? Bristol and Simsbury continue to be among the favorites to capture the zone crown. Unionville is ready to make a run, and Avon is going to be good.
Southington can do it, but it won’t be easy.
“We’re going to see a lot of good baseball,” said Verderame. “If that’s something that you want to see, this is where it’s at. We enjoy the competition, and I think we’re ready to take it on.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.