By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knight baseball team finished last year’s regular season with a 15-5 record (11-3 in division), winning the CCC West by beating out Simsbury by a game to claim the division title for the fourth time in five years.
Seventh-seeded Southington qualified for the Class LL tournament for a fifth-straight year and battled their way through the Class LL state tournament, defeating No.26 Manchester in the first round, No.10 Simsbury in the second round, and No.15 Stamford in the quarterfinals. But standing in their way in the semifinals was a familiar foe Southington had seen all too often in the postseason: No. 14 Amity.
After falling to the Spartans in the championship game two straight years prior, the Knights fell for a third time at Muzzy Field in Bristol, 6-3. The Spartans eventually went on to win the program’s fifth state title, dating back to 1938, with an 8-1 victory over No.4 Staples in the championship game.
“The kids trained in the preseason from the first day of school last year,” said Lembo. “They worked as hard as they possibly could through the fall and winter. When we got on the field in the spring, they worked as hard as they could. We just fell short.”
Lembo said last year’s team still accomplished the goals that the program sets every year: one of them being to win eight games as quickly as possible to get into the state tournament.
“The other goal is to make as much noise as possible in the state tournament,” said the coach. “And that has been the goal every year, since I’ve been the head coach here at Southington.”
The Knights graduated the following 13 seniors from last year’s squad: Shawn Brunoli, Austin Bumbera, Kyle DeAngelo, Ryan DeAngelo, Alex Gorr, Christian Raczka, Mitchell Raczka, Liam Scafariello, Brett Shaw, Zac Susi, Mike Taylor, Chris Vega, and Adam Wilson. Most of the 13 seniors started 24 games for the Knights.
Although they are losing most of their starting varsity lineup from the previous season, the Knights are also welcoming back varsity experience as well. The following are returning to the team with varsity experience from last year: seniors Kyle Bunko, Drew Farkas, Garrett Gugliotti, Jake Walasewicz, and Justin Makles; and juniors Tyler Cyr, John Mikosz, Jake Babon, and Jonathan Gray.
Gugliotti started 22 games last year and led the team with 13 double and finished the year with 31 hits on 81 at-bats (.383) and 16 RBIs. Mikosz also started 22 games last year and finished with 18 hits on 64 at-bats (.281) and 11 RBIs.
Having two of his three starting pitchers back, Lembo said that he thinks the team is going to be pretty good on the mound.
Farkas coveted the golden arm for the Knights on the mound, pitching 11 games (started nine) and going 7-2 with four complete games, two saves, and two shutouts. Farkas threw a team high of 62 strikeouts against 199 batters, racking up an ERA of 2.49.
Besides playing in the outfield, Gugliotti pitched for the Knights as well, going a perfect 4-0 in six out of seven games started. Gugliotti also threw 18 strikeouts and had an ERA of 2.31.
Other players that will look to make an impact on the varsity lineup include seniors Keegan Leahy, Jake Bentz, James Wadman, Luke Krochko, and Chris Borkowski; juniors Christian Gil, Ryan Sheehan, Bailey Robarge, AJ Mondo, Ryan McIntyre, Kyle Semmel, Dominic Coppola, Brayden Cooney, Connor McDonough, Derrick Gdovin, and Matthew Sciota.
Bunko, Cooney, and Sciota will battle to fill the missing void behind the plate, looking to fill Susi’s big shoes at catcher. Other than the ace Farkas and Gugliotti, pitchers Mikosz, Robarge, McDonough, Gray, Sheehan, and Krochko will look to earn their place atop the hill.
The infield is still unclear with Borkowski, Makles, Leahy, Mikosz, Gil, Babon, Gray, Semmel, and Krochko competing for positions. Mikosz started at shortstop for the Knights last season, while Makles and Gray played some second base. Krochko is looking to control the outside corner at third base.
Gugliotti, Walasewicz, Bentz, Wadman, Cyr, McIntyre, and Sheehan will vie to track down fly balls in the outfield.
Having the same work ethic and having the same attention to detail that the players in the previous years have had is what Lembo said will be the key to having a successful season.
“It’s not always going to be the smoothest,” said Lembo. “Some years it’s an easy transition because you have a lot of starters coming back, and some years it’s not. But the expectations stay the same. I believe the kids get that and thrive on it. They want to be in that situation.”
Lembo relates this year’s team to the way last year’s team was two years ago.
“There’s guys coming up from the JV level that didn’t have a lot of varsity experience, but they’ve worked hard on the game to become better players. Even though they didn’t have their names in the paper last year because they were playing JV baseball, they’re striving for the same goals that we’ve always had.”
Lembo said that he will announce his team captains at a later time.
Lembo is entering his sixth year as head coach of the program.
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