By John Goralski
Brett Susi stopped halfway to second base and stared at the catcher to try to draw the throw. In the delay, Zac Susi slipped into third base and watched carefully for a chance to head home. Willimantic’s catcher seemed confused as Southington runners toyed with him like a kitten with a ball of string.
On Monday, July 22, Southington Post 72 opened the American Legion Baseball postseason against the third place team in Zone 6. Willimantic had size. Willimantic had a postseason win under their belt, but they didn’t have Southington’s speed or audacity.
Matt DiNello, the power hitter, ran out a bunt for a single. Matt Santovasi beat out a sure out for a two-out single in the third inning that sparked a six-run rally. Southington runners combined for six stolen bases, and Willimantic never knew what hit them. Southington rallied to a 14-3 win that was stopped by mercy rule after seven innings.
“I thought they were a very good team. They had some big guys and a lot of athletes, but we just put the pressure on them,” said Southington coach Marc Verderame. “We got into our offense and started stealing bases and hitting the ball. We really put it to them.”
That’s become the style of play for Southington’s boys of summer, and it worked to perfection in the postseason opener. Ted Shaw earned two stolen bases. Zac Susi manufactured a run with an error, a stolen base, and two wild pitches. Southington rallied for six unearned runs in the third inning to break open the game, and they put it out of reach with a seven run rally in the fifth as Willimantic’s defense unraveled with five untimely errors.
“That’s what you have to do in this league. You have to take advantage of mistakes,” said Verderame. “We happened to hit, along with their eight errors or something like that, and you’re not going to get away with that.”
It didn’t hurt that the locals combined for 13 hits off of three Willimantic pitchers. Matt Sirois (3-for-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI) and Brett Shaw (3-for-5, 3 RBI) led the way. Ted Shaw (2-for-3) scored three times. DiNello and Santovasi scored twice. Palladino drove in three runs, and Andrew Goralski drove in two more.
Southington reached on bunts, errors, and walks, and each time they came around to score.
On the mound, Craig Frobel scattered eight hits and five strikeouts over seven innings with most of that coming during Willimantic’s two-run rally in the fifth inning that left the bases loaded at the end of the inning.
“He hunkered down,” said Verderame. “That could have been a big inning for them. It was 7-2. If they get a base hit, all of a sudden it could be 7-5. He gets the strikeout. We get six runs the next inning, and that was kind of it right there.”
With the victory, Southington (20-5) advanced to face R-C-P in the final round of the sectional tournament for a chance to advance into the state brackets. The Cromwell-based team went 19-2 to capture the Zone 7 title. Verderame likes his team’s chances in the contest that was scheduled for Tuesday, July 23.
“They have some good pitching. Cromwell was good in high school this year, so it’s going to be a tough test,” said the coach. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Regular season finale at Wolcott
Ted Shaw (3-for-4) opened the game with a triple and scored to give Southington a 1-0 lead, but it took extra innings for a 3-2 win over Wolcott in the season finale.
Brett Shaw drew a walk to start the sixth inning and capitalized on two Wolcott errors to score. Matt Sirois (2-for-2) was the only other local with multiple hits as the offense combined for three runs on six hits.
Joe Daigle scattered six hits and five strikeouts over six innings to set up the win. Sirois scored the victory with two scoreless innings of relief and drove in the winning run.
Wolcott (6-18) scored both their runs in the third inning. Southington finished the season with a 19-5 record.