By BRIAN JENNINGS
Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, made an appearance in Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania on Feb. 2 of this year. He saw his shadow, meaning that there would be six more weeks of winter.
With most of the outdoor sports facility at Southington High School looking like a muddy swamp, six more weeks of winter also means keeping the baseball team off of the diamond…for now.
Southington coach Charlie Lembo is optimistic about the upcoming season for the Blue Knights, but has to play the waiting game in terms of figuring out fielding positions for his players and naming team captains.
Lembo said that he would like to think his Knights are going to be strong in defense, pitching, and hitting. However, his team’s strengths remain to be seen due to extended hitting in the batting cages, throwing in the gym, and use of the artificial turf from the football field for make-shift practices.
The Knights are coming off of a second straight season as runner-ups to Amity in the Class LL state championship game. They finished the regular season with a 17-3 (12-2) record, qualifying for the state tournament in the first 10 games and winning the CCC West for the third time in four years. The Knights are losing seven seniors, who were the first Southington graduates in the program’s history to reach the championship game three times during their four-year careers.
That just goes to show you how successful the program has been in recent years, as well as how close. In 2012, the Knights lost in the semifinals to South Windsor, almost making four straight state championship appearances.
The Knights will have to replace the big bat of Joe Rivera, who had 29 hits, a .348 batting average, and 12 RBIs. Rivera was also dependable on the bases with 22 walks, seven stolen bases, and an on-base percentage of .537, equaling 41 total bases.
Rivera was also the ace on the mound, winning six of 10 starts and leading the team with 70 strikeouts, two shutouts, three complete games, and a 1.31 ERA.
The Knights will also have to replace pitcher Kyle Cole. Winning all eight of his starts and collecting 44 strikeouts, three shutouts, six complete games, and a 1.42 ERA.
Between Rivera and Cole, the two had over 100 innings pitched, almost 2000 pitches, and over 1000 strikes.
Leadership will play a critical role in the Knights’ success this season with 13 seniors, two juniors, and five sophomores returning to the varsity lineup. Most of their returning players bring a lot of game experience to the table from last season, especially going through the state tournament run and playing in the championship game.
“We’ve had some really good leadership this year from the seniors so far,” said Lembo. “Experience is one thing, and it looks great on paper, but it depends on what you’ve learned from that experience.”
Hitting should prove to be a strength. Seniors Zac Susi, Liam Scafariello, and Ryan DeAngelo were big hitters for the Knights last season as the Knights will have four players with double-digit at bats returning to the batting order.
Susi helped the team out with 24 hits, 15 runs, 13 RBIs, and a .348 batting average out of 69 at bats. Scafariello had 16 runs, 18 hits, and a .450 batting average. He also led the team with 19 RBIs, 6 home runs and an on-base percentage of .566, and DeAngelo led the team with 82 at bats and 30 hits, batting an average of .366 with 18 RBIs.
Lembo said that he will be looking to junior Garret Gugliotti and seniors Brett Shaw and Adam Wilson to be big contributing factors as well.
On the mound, the Knights look to replace the pitching powerhouse duo of Rivera and Cole, but j0unior Drew Farkas will look to step in and take control on the mound. Farkas won four games as a sophomore pitcher last season for the Knights and finished with a 3.6 ERA after throwing 23.3 innings, 403 pitches, and 241 strikes.
Farkas will have some help on the rubber this season from seniors Austin Bumbera, Chris Vega, and Shawn Brunoli. Bumbera has the most experience, throwing 22.7 innings last year, 385 pitches, 233 strikes, and finishing with a 3.09 ERA.
Seniors Alex Gorr, Mike Taylor, Kyle DeAngelo, Christian Raczka, and Mitch Raczka will be contending for spots on the field. Junior Kyle Bunko could see some time catching or in the outfield.
Sophomores John Mikosz, Jonathan Gray, and Jake Babon will be looking to break into the starting lineup.
To Lembo, there are no key games or stretches that stand out from this season’s schedule.
“Every game is important,” said the coach. “We have a 20-game regular season schedule, and every team on this schedule is going to be a tough game. There are no ‘gimmes.’ I’m looking for the toughest schedule possible to get these guys ready. It may cost us some W’s during the season, but that’s ok. I think that gets us ready for the tournament.”
The Knights have two Class LL state titles and seven Class LL championship game appearances. They also have one Class M state title and two Class M championship game appearances, totaling 12 state title appearances.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.