By John Goralski
As Avon’s players spilled onto the field, Marc Verderame gathered his team in a circle to lay down the gauntlet. Southington had lost four games in a row since dealing Avon their first loss of the season, but Verderame wasn’t about to give up on the summer season.
The math is pretty simple. To reach the playoffs, Southington needs to win two out of every three games down the stretch. Forget about the records, he said to his team. Forget about speeches or motivation, he said to his players.
If Southington is going to be successful, the losing streak has to end.
“We lost four in a row, but it doesn’t mean that we’re cursed,” he said to his players. “There’s never going to be a perfect time or a perfect moment to do the right thing. You have to create that moment, and that’s what we’re going to do tonight.”
It helped to have Joe Rivera on the mound. The recent graduate knifed through the Avon lineup with 13 strikeouts and allowed only three hits against one of the hottest offenses in the state. Avon’s biggest threat was a runner at second base in the bottom of the sixth inning, but the game was already out of reach.
“Joe Rivera went out there and pitched the best game that I’ve ever seen him pitch,” said Verderame. “He took total command, and he got the job done when we needed him to. That’s what it’s going to have to be for us. We’re going to put our aces out there—Kyle Cole and Joe Rivera—and they’re going to have to get wins for us.”
It helped that Southington batters reached base in every inning but one as they rallied for seven runs and 11 hits. Zac Susi paced the attack, going 3-for-3 with a walk. Southington exploded for four runs in the third inning and put the game out of reach with a three run rally in the top of the seventh.
The 7-0 victory snapped Southington’s four-game skid to even their record at 6-6. Avon dropped to 11-2 with their second loss to Southington in five days.
“That’s what we’re going to have to do,” said Verderame. “We can’t wait for something to happen. Are we a gazelle or a lion? What does a gazelle do when he’s not being pushed? Nothing. He needs to be pushed. We want to be the lion.”
On Thursday, Southington raced out to a 2-0 lead before thunderstorms ended their home contest, but momentum continued to carry into the weekend.
On Sunday, July 6, the Knights sent their second ace to the mound and Cole came away with a 4-1 win over Terryville. Cole never trailed, allowing just three hits and one earned run over seven innings, but it still took a three-run rally in Southington’s final at bat to snap a 1-1 tie.
“Kyle went out there and pitched a great game, but he’s done that every time that I’ve given him the ball,” Verderame said. “We got the hits. We chipped away at it, and came away with a couple of steals at the end. We might have stole one there.”
Daigle powered the offense for the locals, reaching base twice and scoring each time. Brett Shaw and Daigle opened the seventh inning with back-to-back doubles. Susi (0-for-1) reached base after being hit by a pitch for the third time in the contest. Susi’s 13-game hitting streak came to an end, but he came around to score the final run in Southington 4-1 win.
That was the last time that the locals would score. In the second contest of the double header, Terryville rallied for 11 hits compared to Southington’s four. Terryville sent 10 batters to the plate in a five run rally in the third and cruised to an 8-0 win.
“We just didn’t have it. We didn’t hit the ball. We didn’t field. We didn’t pitch,” said Verderame. “We got out-played at just about everything, and that’s the way it’s been for us. We’re a sort of Jekyll and Hyde team. We’ll go out there and beat the top team in the state twice, but we’ll go out and lose to a team that we’re better than.”
Once again, Verderame gathered his troops. Southington escaped the week with two wins in three contests, and they’re going to have to continue that pace. With nine games remaining on the schedule, Southington (7-7) will need to win six of them to reach the postseason.
“Let’s just take it a game at a time. Let’s just go out there with a purpose. Let’s try to win our next game and then go out and win the next one,” said the coach. “It’s an adventure this year. You never know what’s going to happen, but we have the talent to do it.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.