Building a state powerhouse: Championship team melds 4 high schools and 4 colleges

Recent Xavier grad Nick Borkowski pitched a complete game to beat Ellington in the first game of the state championship finals. (Photo by John Goralski)

By KEVIN ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

MERIDEN – Andrew Owsianko didn’t have a place to play summer baseball before he joined the Southington Post 72 American Legion team, and he made the most of his homecoming.

Owsianko, who graduated last year from St. Paul and had previously suited up for Bristol Post 2, went from an uncertain future to Southington state championship game hero in a matter of months.

It was Owsianko’s two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the eighth inning that propelled Southington to a 7-6 title-clinching victory over Ellington on Sunday at Ceppa Field.

Post 72 had earned a berth in the American Legion Northeast Regional by making the best-of-three state championship series, then went ahead and won both games against Ellington for the title. It was Southington’s second state championship in Legion baseball and first since 1993. Post 72 was playing in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass., this week.

But this year’s legion team is a unique one for Southington. Typically, the summer roster sprinkles recent graduates into a lineup that features Southington High School upperclassmen, while most legion powerhouses draw all-star teams, pulling players from multiple high schools in a region. Southington is one of the last teams to feature players from one school.

This summer, the team expanded its roster to include a number of Southington athletes—like Owsianko—that weren’t members of the Blue Knights.

“We got kids that rode the bench, kids from college, kids from community college, Chase Collegiate, [Southington] high school, Kingswood-Oxford, St. Paul, [and Xavier],” coach Marc Verderame said. “These kids came together, and they’re the best team in the state.”

Southington High School is still the biggest contributor for the local team with Dylan Chiaro, Ryan Henderson, Brandon Kohl, Jason Krar, Jeremy Mercier, Eric Padden, Josh Panarella, Jake Romano, Daniel Topper, Justin Verrilli, and Jacob Weed playing pivotal roles. But Aneesh Avancha (Chase Collegiate), Nick Borkowski (Xavier), and Connor Patenaude (Kingswood Oxford) returned to their hometown team for the summer.

The list was buoyed by returning college players Ryan Sheehan (Eastern Connecticut State University), Brayden Cooney (UConn-Avery Point), Owsianko (Western New England University), and Tyler Cyr (Westfield State University).

Players and coaches hoist the American Legion baseball state championship banner after a sweep of the Connecticut state finals. (Photo by Kevin Roberts)

But the team came together as if they’d been playing together for years.

When Cooney slid into home plate to cap the final game of the state tournament, Southington players, coaches and fans erupted in celebration.

“We’ve been working for this for so long,” Cooney said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life, the first championship I’ve ever won in baseball, and it’s something we’re going to remember for a long, long while.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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