By JOHN GORALSKI
After seven innings Marc Verderame trudged to the mound to take the baseball out of Kyle Cole’s hands. How much more could he expect from his starting pitcher? At the start of the week Cole battled through eight innings to help the local Legionnaires advance to the finals of the sectional playoffs. Here he was with 11 strikeouts just a few days later.
The starter glared at his coach from the mound, but Verderame signaled for the last reliever on the Southington roster. The locals eventually lost with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. The defeat ended an unlikely run through the postseason, but Verderame said that he’ll always remember the fight.
It showed in Cole’s face when the fatigued pitcher was dragged off the mound. It showed in his relievers, his batters, and his decimated bench. The team lost one pitcher to a college team. They lost a catcher to an elite travel team run by the New York Yankees, and a few others in unpredictable ways.
The ones that were left battled to the very end.
“This is probably my team that I’m most proud of,” said the third-year coach and former player. “We had that rough patch during the season, but we followed it with a great stretch where we played eight games in nine days. It was almost like we went from being boys to being men. We got hot at the right time. You never want to say, ‘What if?’ But I think that, if we had a full squad in the playoffs, we could have done even more damage.”
Even if Southington held on for a win, they would have been a huge underdog to advance in the best-of-three series against a well-rested zone winner. The locals would have still needed a win in the second game of the double header against Waterford’s rested bullpen. Verderame almost considered leaving Cole in the game even with his heroic pitch count.
“I have to be honest. If we won, I really don’t know who would pitch in that second game,” said the coach. “Cole wasn’t available. [Josh] Dobratz wasn’t available. Austin Bumbera had just thrown 100 pitches the day before, and [Shawn] Brunoli had just thrown three innings. [Joe] Daigle would have thrown two or three innings after the first game, and we had nobody left. We were focused on winning the game, but at the same time I had these questions circling the back of my head. I don’t know what we would have done with pitching.”
Few would have predicted that the locals would have made it to the sectional finals when they were mired in a late-season slump just a few weeks ago. Nobody would have predicted a postseason rally that finished just outside the eight-team state championship brackets because Southington was fighting just to keep their playoff hopes alive.
That’s what Verderame wants fans and players to remember about the summer of 2014.
“I told them that I was proud of them. Two weeks ago, I think that everybody sort of wrote us off at 7-7,” he said. “To win 10 of our last 11 games and two playoff games? I don’t think anybody saw that coming. I told the kids that I was very proud of them. I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed of.”
Southington knifed through everyone but their last opponent. In a 6-1 victory over Terryville in the second round, Cole pitched eight scoreless innings before handing the ball to Dobratz for the final outs.
On Wednesday, the team took an early 3-1 lead before Waterford rallied for five runs in the middle innings. Bumbera and Brunoli pitched four innings apiece. Southington rallied for runs in each of the final two innings before losing by one run, 6-5.
In the finale, Southington scored three runs in the opening inning and fought off two Waterford comebacks before losing another 6-5 battle in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Southington’s offense rallied for 16 runs in three games. Dobratz led the way, going 7-for-10 (.700) with four runs and four RBI. Ryan DeAngelo went 5-for-12. Eleven different players rallied for hits over the final three games, and that’s a great sign of things to come.
It’s likely that Rivera will be pitching in a different summer league. Cole and a few others are questionable if their college coaches push them in different directions during the off-season, but Verderame expect to bring back most of the team next year, along with a host of up-and-coming talent.
Post 72 was inexperienced at the start of this summer, but next year should be a whole different story.
“I think we’re going to be locked and loaded next year, and we’ll get a couple of big additions. We’ll just need the pitching, but that’s always the key,” Verderame said. “Charlie Lembo does a great job getting these kids ready at a young age during the high school season, so I know that there are a lot of other guys in the pipeline. We’ll have a good shot again.”
Will next summer be the year that Southington breaks their title drought? Can the locals continue their dominance in high school and American Legion? Will Post 72 build upon their 18-10 record when play resumes next summer? Verderame smiled at the questions.
“When I first took over three years ago, all we wanted to do is be competitive,” he said. “In the first season, we made the tournament for the first time in 15 years. The next year, we won the zone for the first time in 15 or 20 years. Last year, we made it to the state finals for the first time in 20 years, and we made the sectional finals this year. Our goal right now is to win a state championship, and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable goal for next year. We’ve laid down the framework. We’re ready.”
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By JOHN GORALSKI