By John Goralski
The first game against Avon was an extra-inning contest that began on July 3 and ended on July 12. The second contest saw a 3-0 Southington lead evaporate in a flurry of miscues and errors. Southington posted an 8-4 victory in the third game, but it was too late.
American Legion Post 72 led in all three games. Southington out-scored their Avon rivals, 13-11, over the three game regular season series, but Avon won the one stat that mattered. With a 2-1 advantage in their head-to-head contests, Avon ended Southington’s bid for back-to-back zone titles.
Coach Marc Verderame said that he hopes his team learned a valuable lesson in the loss.
“You can’t have the lead that late and give it up, but I think we’ll learn from that. We know that we can play with a team like Avon. We know that we’re the best team in the zone, and we know we gave it away,” he said. “I told the kids that we’re going to be judged by what happens next.”
Things are heating up for the local Legionnaires. They survived a stretch of 11 games over a 10 day stretch that included a six-game winning streak that matched a season’s best. With one game to go, they’ve already clinched second place in the Zone I Standings. Now comes the fun part.
“I like where we are right now,” said Verderame. “It matters where we’re standing at the end, not how we did in the zone against Avon. I think we have a good team. We’ve got the pitching, and the hitting has been good lately. I’m looking forward to making a run in the playoffs.”
The state tournament is just around the corner, and the locals are poised to make another run. They’ve secured their spot in the state’s top 20 for a berth in the single-elimination sectional tournament. With a second place finish, Southington has earned a bye in the opening round, so they’ll begin with a home game on July 22.
With the zone title, Avon will only need to win once to secure entry into the double-elimination state tournament. Southington will have to win twice, but Verderame said that it’s only a technicality.
“If we can’t win two games to get in, we’re probably not going to be able to win a state tournament anyway,” said the coach. “I think it’s going to be a good test for us and a good chance to erase any doubts that people might have about us.”
Can this team win that elusive second state title and first since 1993? Verderame said that they have the talent, but the coach still has some questions that need to be answered.
Those questions were posed by opponents in the final week of the season:
How good is Southington’s depth on the mound?
If Matt Sirois has anything to say about it, Southington has more arms than they can use. On Monday, July 8, the third baseman stepped to the mound for a one-hitter in his American Legion debut. Sirois scattered one hit and one walk over seven innings on the mound, and Southington rallied for a 5-0 win.
“He throws knuckleballs, and it was fun to watch him go to work,” said Verderame. “Nobody could touch him. I don’t think that a lot of teams see knuckleballers, so we might use him later on the mound. It was a special appearance for us, and we took care of business.”
The offense combined for five runs on eight hits. Zac Susi (2-for-3) had multiple hits. Sirois scored a double. Southington scored twice in their first at bat and put the game away with a three-run rally in the sixth inning.
Do we depend too heavily on our pitchers to carry the load?
Brett Susi has been nothing short of stellar this summer as one of the aces in Southington’s lineup, but he struggled late in the game on Tuesday, July 9. Susi scattered seven hits over a complete game performance, but he almost squandered a 5-1 lead when Bristol rallied for three runs in the final inning.
“That game was really important for our confidence level,” said Verderame. “Bristol had been beating us up for about 10 years. I don’t think we took a single series for as long as I’ve been in the program. It was important. We got off to a good lead, but we almost gave it up.”
In the end, it was Southington’s power and defense that proved the difference. Dave Palladino (2-for-4) had a double and three RBI. Ted Shaw and Brett Shaw both had doubles. Southington rallied for three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a four run lead, and the defense shut down a late threat to clinch the season series with a 5-4 victory.
Can the team manufacture runs if needed?
Ted Shaw went 2-for-4, but finished with four steals and four runs scored. Mike Rogalski capitalized on a passed ball to manufacture his second score of the game. Josh Dobratz and Sirois advanced on passed balls and came around to score. Palladino stole a base.
On Thursday, July 11, Southington scored one win with a forfeit by Winsted and scored another win by turning eight hits into 13 runs scored. Joe Daigle scattered four hits over a six inning game, and Southington rallied to a 13-1 win.
“We had some good approaches at the plate,” said Verderame. “We’ve been doing a great job of that lately. If you look at the hits we have, we’ve been getting a lot of hits going to the opposite field. We don’t strike out that much, and I’ve been impressed with the way we’ve been coming along.
Can Southington put teams away, or will they lose focus when they have the lead?
That is the million dollar question, and it’s the only one that still haunts the Southington coach.
Southington led by two in the seventh inning in their first game against Avon, but they surrendered two runs in Avon’s final at bat and lost the game in 12 innings, 3-2, in a game with an eight day stoppage of play.
“We were up 2-0 in the seventh inning with one out and nobody on base. We just made some errors, walked a couple of guys, and they got a timely hit,” said the coach. “You have to tip your hat to them for getting that hit, but I’m proud of our guys for hanging around for those four innings after that letdown. An error got us again with a dropped ball in left field.”
The same thing happened in the second contest. Joe Rivera and Froebl scattered six runs over 6 2/3 innings. Southington was up 3-0 with two innings to go, but Avon rallied for four unanswered runs and a 4-3 victory.
“We walked a bunch of guys, and they came back,” Verderame said. “Walks killed us, but we still got to the last inning with a one-run lead. We made two errors to blow the game.”
That’s why the coach was pleased with his team’s efforts in the third and final contest. Southington took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning and added runs in all but one of the next five plate appearances to win, 8-4..
“They beat us in the first two games with a pair of lefties, and we got out of our game plan,” he said. “We went back to it in game three by stealing a lot of bases and making things happen. That’s who we are. When we stick to that game plan, we can be very dangerous.”
So can the locals answer these questions and any more that pop up along the way? We’ll find out in the upcoming weeks.
“All we have to do is execute,” aid the coach. “If we do that, we can beat anybody.”