by John Goralski
With a five-run rally in the third inning, Post 72 took the lead for good. With a five-run rally in the fifth inning, Wolcott signaled that they had enough. One week after falling to .500 with a double-header split at Terryville, a laid-back Southington team quietly celebrated their return to postseason play.
What a difference a week makes.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” said Southington’s American Legion baseball coach Marc Verderame. “Last year we had so much experienced talent that our success was expected. To go through what we went through with that devastating slump and to come out of it as a much better team? That shows the group of kids that we have. We worked hard really hard at this, and now we have a shot.”
Verderame points to a come-from-behind victory against Bristol on Tuesday, July 8 as the turning point for his team. Austin Bumbera scattered three hits over five scoreless innings before Bristol chased him from the game with a four-run rally in the top of the sixth. Trailing 4-1, Southington answered with a three run rally to tie the game.
“We had just lost to Terryville, and we were struggling at .500,” said the coach. “That really was a gut check. That was our make-or-break point this season, and ever since we’ve been on fire.”
Brett Shaw drew a walk to start the next inning and stole second. Joe Daigle sacrificed him to third, and Shaw scored a walk-off run on a wild pitch to end the game, and that sparked a 6-1 streak over a six-day stretch to clinch a postseason return.
“I’m really proud of these kids. I issued a challenge, and that usually means that there are two ways to go,” said Verderame. “That was gut-check time, and I think we passed. I couldn’t have asked for more. I’m so proud of our guys, and I think we’re really hitting our stride right now.”
The momentum carried into the next day in Simsbury as Southington led off with a 3-run rally in the first inning and held on for a 3-1 victory. Joe Daigle (2-for-3), Ryan DeAngelo (2-for-3), and Brett Susi scored, while Daigle allowed just one run over five innings to get the win.
Josh Dobratz secured the victory against Bristol with one scoreless inning on the mound. Against Simsbury, Dobratz earned a save with two scoreless innings of relief. As the regular season comes to an end, Verderame thinks that he might have found his closer.
“We got those three runs in the first inning, and that’s all we needed,” said Verderame. “Josh Dobratz came in again and mowed them down. He’s sort of morphed into that role of the guy that comes out of the bullpen to shut teams down.”
Thursday was the team’s only set back. Kyle Cole scattered seven hits over seven innings. Southington took a 1-0 lead into the fourth inning, but Avon rallied for two runs to score the victory. Avon (17-3) kept Southington off-balanced with a trio of pitchers and rallied for their first win in three chances against the locals.
“Cole went out there and pitched well. We fought hard, but we missed bunts and made a few mistakes,” said Verderame. “That’s they way that they’ve been this year. If you don’t go out and beat them, they’ll beat you.”
Southington rebounded with a double-header victory at Muzzy Field in Bristol on Saturday to clinch a series sweep. Bumbera scattered five hits and one earned run over seven innings to score a 5-4 win in the opener. Rivera (5 innings) and Dobratz (2 innings) combined for a 5-0 shutout in the second contest.
Susi and Kyle DeAngelo had multiple hits in the first game, and Ryan DeAngelo drew three walks in the second game as Southington manufactured five runs on four hits.
“We were tied for fifth place with Wolcott and Bristol at the start of the game,” Verderame said. “I told the kids that we controlled our own destiny, and we took it to them. We went out there and did what we had to do.”
The next day, Southington capped the week with another double header sweep of Wolcott. Shawn Brunoli and Cole combined for the win in the opener, and Adam Wilson allowed just five hits in the second one. Southington out-scored Wolcott, 18-6, for the day.
“Today, we were running on fumes but we had Brunoli and Wilson went out there and took care of business,” Verderame said. “I think that the kids have stepped up to every challenge. Sometimes when you struggle in the beginning of the season, you learn to embrace the adversity. Ithink that’s what we’ve done here.”
Southington improved to 13-8 with three games to go. With two wins this week against Winsted and a victory over Simsbury on Friday’s finale, Southington could clinch the highseed in the upcoming CT Zone I playoffs.
“We’re starting to come around and hit well. When we do that, I don’t think that there’s anybody that wants to face us,” said the coach. “We still have a chance to get second place. We’ll need some help, but that would be unbelievable. We played nine games in eight days, so I’m proud of the kids for going out there and getting the job done.”
Now comes the fun part…
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by John Goralski