By John Goralski
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype as two conference shutouts pushed the Blue Knight baseball team to the top of the Class LL standings. It’s easy to get lost in postseason predictions and championship dreams.
That’s why Blue Knight coach Charlie Lembo draped his team in pink jerseys before sending them onto the field on Monday, May 12.
Fans call it the annual ‘Pink Game,’ but Lembo calls it a reminder that baseball’s a game, and winning isn’t everything. It was an idea that came to him in 2011 after a controversial loss in the championship game robbed his program of a state title.
“This all stems from that night on Muzzy Field. That’s where this game was born,” said the coach. “Some of them were hurting that night, but we talked about what we did the days before in practice when we walked a couple of laps at the Relay for Life. I told them that, even during a tough moment of their lives, there are more important things than baseball games. That’s why we started to get involved in this.”
Players wore pink uniforms. Fans wore pink clothes. Recent graduates returns with faded pink jerseys, and the pregame festivities included a presentation of a $3,100 check from the Rivera Law Group that matched funds raised by the team. It will all be donated for cancer research, and Lembo hopes that the lesson isn’t lost on his players.
“This really has become a great event,” he said. “On Saturday we did a walk in New Britain, and that was something else that I was proud about. I’m always looking for things for our kids to be doing things together as a team to help the community. In my four years here, our guys have really embraced that.”
Once the game began, the festivities continued. Shortstop Joe Daigle set the pace with a diving catch on the first play of the game. Joe Rivera did his part with a no-hitter that stretched into the sixth inning. Daigle finished with eight defensive plays, while Southington batters combined for 10 hits and five runs.
Leadoff hitter Garrett Gugliotti reached base on an error and came around to score. Rivera went 3-for-3 with two doubles. Ryan DeAngelo went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, and Zac Susi went 2-for-3 with another run scored.
When the dust settled on the contest, the Knights had raised thousands for charity and moved into first place in the Class LL standings with a 5-0 win over Conard.
“Joe Rivera did a great job keeping them off-balanced, and Joe Daigle did a great job in the field with all of the plays that he made in this game,” said Lembo. “We didn’t really string too many hits together, but we hit the ball hard. We battled, but we were just struggling to score runs today. It was good to get the win.”
The Knights were far from finished. On Wednesday, Kyle Cole allowed just two hits and four walks with four strikeouts as the Knights held off NW Catholic, 3-0. For the second time this season, Cole held the Indians at bay. This time, Southington came away with the victory as the Knights avenged one of their two regular season losses.
“Kyle Cole pitched a great game, again,” said Lembo. “He gave up a little bloop single over the head of our second baseman, and the second hit came on a line drive with one out in the seventh. We were already winning 3-0, so we were kind of hoping that Joe Rivera wouldn’t dive for it, but if it was a no-hitter we probably could have come up with it.”
At the plate, Southington batters did just enough to win. Gugliotti went 2-for-4. Susi, Daigle, and DeAngelo rounded the bases to score. The Knights manufactured runs in the second, fourth, and fifth innings to score their second shutout victory of the week.
“We had to manufacture some runs because their pitcher was really good,” said Lembo. “He has a free ride to Quinnipiac, but we had a couple of bunts for base hits. We were able to rattle them a little bit, and it was a little different than the first time we faced them and they had a no hitter going into the seventh inning. This time, we put some pressure on them to make plays and we scratched out some runs.”
With the victory, Southington improved to 11-2 with seven games remaining. The Knights lead Staples, Fairfield Prep, and Simsbury by one game in the loss column. Now, the Knights face one of their toughest stretches of the season with five games this week to start a brutal 10-game stretch. Lembo hopes his team has learned the lesson of the Pink Game.
Enjoy every moment. Work together, and concentrate on the task in front of you. Take victories where you can and hold your head up.
“It’s nice to be in this position, but we have a lot more work to do,” said the coach. “We have a good record, but we have one third of our regular season left to play. There is no rest. We have to take care of business each day.”
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