By KEVIN ROBERTS
Four years ago, the thought of Southington Post 72 American Legion baseball going to two straight state championship series was far-fetched, at best.
Southington finished the 2015 season with a record of 7-15. Post 72 began a rebuild and went 15-9 in the 2016 regular season, followed by an 18-6 record in 2017 and a 20-8 mark in 2018. Post 72 finished second to Avon by a single game in Zone 1 in 2017, then was runner-up to Cheshire in Zone 3 in 2018.
Southington got hot in the postseason in 2018, winning its pod before unleashing some postseason magic in its undefeated run through the super regional. Post 72 swept Ellington in the best-of-three state championship series to capture their first state championship since 1993. Southington traveled to Worcester, Mass., where it went 1-2 in the Northeast Regional.
Fast forward to July 30 of this year and Post 72 was playing for a second straight state championship series berth, and a second consecutive appearance in the Northeast Regional. Southington beat Waterford, 5-2, at South Windsor’s Rotary Field and earned both spots.
“We’re building something here, we’ve come a long way,” coach Marc Verderame said after the Waterford win. “Four years ago, we won [seven] games. We put in the hard work. It starts everywhere, it starts with the Connecticut travel Knights, to what Charlie Lembo’s doing with Southington High School, to us. It flows right through. We set the stage and these players deliver.”
Justin Verrilli was on the 2018 championship team, and he authored a key relief performance in the Waterford win on July 30. Verrilli pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Ryan Henderson and helped bridge the way to Jeremy Mercier, who closed a game for the third time in the postseason.
“It was crazy, it was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Verrilli said about the 2018 championship. “The next season, seeing that we were kind of disrespected, not being in the Top 10 or whatever, we kind of took that to heart, we just played even better and showed them on the field.”
Disrespect is a motivator, and so is playing Legion baseball with your teammates for the last time. That’s something that players like Verrilli, Mercier, Brandon Kohl, Nick Borkowski, Josh Panarella, Jake Weed and Aneesh Avancha are going through.
Will Marshall, who played at Waterbury’s Holy Cross High School, is going through the same thing in his first year with the team, and 2019 Southington High graduate Jason Krar is experiencing it because he will be entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“They know this is their last attempt at it. A lot of kids, they’re going off to work. They’re going off without playing in college, they knew this is their last try and it’s important to realize that in the moment,” Verderame said. “Most times we don’t realize it until you know 20, 30 years later on the softball field, but these kids are living in the moment, enjoying it, and it’s been a hell of a ride.”
The 2018 team played in Post 72’s first state championship series since 2013 and won the first title since 1993. The 2019 team made history of its own when it reached the championship series for the second consecutive year. And for the second straight year, Southington is headed to the Northeast Regional.
“We took a few losses early, got mercied, but once we had our eyes on the prize and we got here, this team really hunkered down and had the hearts of champions,” Verderame said about the 2018 champions. “A lot of the guys from last year are on this team, and we’re hungry for one more.”
Post 72 certainly has been building something, and what has been constructed is one of the top Legion programs in the state.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com