By John Goralski
Marc Verderame forced a smile as his players filed onto the field the day after the high school’s loss in the state championship game. The American Legion baseball coach looked unfazed by the recent heartbreak as he ran his summer hopefuls through the motions for preseason tryouts.
Make no mistake. The former Blue Knight understands the emotions that are swirling through his players’ heads just a few hours after their season ending loss. But Verderame has a job to do, and the summer coach takes that job seriously.
“Baseball is all about going through adversity. We went to the high school championship three out of four years. We went to the American Legion championship last year,” he said. “Baseball’s a game of failure, so sometimes it’s best to just go back into the fire right away. It’s a testament to the program that we keep getting to the finals, and we want to continue that.”
So, let the healing begin.
There’s no mistake that the rise of Southington’s legion team has coincided with the re-emergence of the Blue Knights. Three years ago, Verderame marshaled the summer team back into the state brackets just a few weeks after Southington’s first Class L tournament run.
Last season, Legion took the next step with a postseason run that extended into the final game of the state tournament.
This year, there’s an added wrinkle. With so many high school players choosing other avenues and so many recent graduates rising in the ranks in collegiate summer leagues, Verderame has returned to his roots as Southington’s summer coach.
Just like he did when he took over the team four years ago, Verderame will try to prepare a new batch of kids for next year’s spring season.
“This year, it’s going to be an adventure,” he said. “We have some new faces, so we’re going to embrace that challenge. We’re going to work together and get better, but our goals haven’t changed. We still want to win the zone and see what we can do at the state tournament.”
It isn’t all new faces. Verderame returns a solid core of proven varsity players. Joe Rivera and Kyle Cole were the top two pitchers during the Blue Knight’s annual title run, and both are expected to lead the locals in the summer season.
Mike Rogalski, Joe Daigle, Brett Shaw, Zac Susi, Chris Bunko, and Josh Dobratz have all returned to anchor the Southington squad. They will work with a host of up-and-coming players to forge a promising team. That’s what excited Verderame about this summer’s team.
“It’s all about giving kids chances,” said the coach. “Last year, Joe Daigle got his chance during the summer, and he ended up as the starting shortstop this year at the high school. We have a lot of new faces, but I think they’re up to the challenge. We have the kind of program where we can just go around and insert guys, and I think that they’re going to step up.”
Adam Wilson is new to the team, but he played a pivotal role at the plate during the high school season. Ryan DeAngelo will look to build on a strong high school season. Kyle DeAngelo, Nick Calabrese, RJ Parent, Kyle MacLean, and Josh Makles look to take the next step.
On the mound, Austin Bumbera showed promise as an underclassman, and he’ll look to take the next step as a summer pitcher.
“It’s going to be a skeleton crew of 10 or 11 guys,” said Verderame. “Some-times, it’s going to be about mixing and matching. The name of our game is being aggressive. We’re going to hit, steal bases, and manufacture runs.”
The team wasted no time getting started with an early 4-1 record after the first week of play. Southington’s only loss came against Simsbury with a few key people missing from the lineup.
The team is off to a fast start, and Verderame said that the best is yet to come.
“We’re putting runs on the board, and we have the kind of team that—if we can score three or four runs in a game—we’re going to win,” he said. “If you like action, you should come out and see us. We’re going to be good.”
Austin Bumbera threw 13 strikeouts in the opener as Southington shut out Winsted, 5-0, on Tuesday, June 17. Bumbera earned the victory with six scoreless innings, and Shawn Brunoli struck out one batter in the final inning.
Southington rallied for runs in three of the first four innings to put the game out of reach and executed seven steals to pus runs across the plate. Susi led the way with a triple and the locals combined for five runs on seven hits to get the win.
Winsted fell to 0-4.
Southington snapped the shutout in the top of the seventh inning, but it wasn’t enough to erase Simsbury’s early lead on Wednesday.
Simsbury hitters rallied for 12 hits and seven runs to beat Southington, 7-1.
Joe Daigle allowed five earned runs and struck out four in the loss. Adam Wilson closed out the game with a scoreless seventh inning.
Rogalski (2-for-3) was the only local with multiple hits as Southington managed just one run on four hits in the loss. Simsbury improved to 6-1 with the victory.
Kyle Cole struck out six batters over seven innings to post a complete game one-hitter against Union-ville on Friday. Southington scored two runs in the second inning and three in the third and cruised to a 5-0 win.
Susi and Rogalski each went 2-for-3 with triples to lead the way for Southington’s bats. Shaw, Dobratz, and Bunko got hits in the victory.
Southington’s offense exploded for 13 runs, and Rivera struck out 13 batters to score a complete game shutout in the opener. On Sunday, June 22, Post 72 improved to 4-1 with a double header sweep of Torrington.
Rivera allowed just three hits in the opener as Southington, and the offense responded with one run in the first inning and three in the third.
Maclean went 2-for-2 with a double and two walks. Ryan DeAngelo finished with two hits and apair of walks as the locals rallied for to a 4-0 victory.
Bumbera allowed just one earned run in the second game, and Brunoli allowed just one earned run in relief but Southington’s defense struggled in the secodn contest with a pair of unforced errors.
Torrington took a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning, but Southington answered back with a six-run rally in the bottom of the inning. The locals scored two more in the following inning to put the game out of reach and held on for a 9-5 win.
Shaw went 3-fop-3 with a double and two runs scored. Rogalski went 3-for-4. Daigle, MacLean, and Dobratz each went 2-for-4 in the victory.
Southington will try to carry the momentum into week two with home games against Terryville and Avon before heading on the road for a five game stretch.