The Newington boys’ volleyball team battled back from two sets down to defeat South Windsor (24-26, 20-25, 25-18, 25-15, 16-14) in a five-set marathon, capturing the Class M championship and winning their third title in the last four years.
“It’s so surreal right now. I’m still trying to soak it all in, it’s the best way to go out,” senior captain Vinh Dau said as hundreds of Newington students celebrated with the victorious team on June 8.
South Windsor jumped out to what seemed like an insurmountable lead, winning the first two sets, but Newington roared back and took the next three sets behind a series of hustle plays, timely serves, and a raucous crowd that packed Plainville High School.
“We were confident because against Lewis Mills in the first round we were down two sets as well and we were able to come back. We just stayed confident and we never gave up,” said junior Dan Cloutier, who came off the bench to serve out the final six points of the third set, “Coach always says stay ready. I just wanted to create a spark off the bench and mix it up a little bit and I was glad that I was able to do that.”
Cloutier’s efforts allowed the Indians to take the third frame and seniors Andres Ithier-Vicenty and Kevin Bilbraut dominated he fourth set as Newington evened the match and forced a decisive fifth set.
Ithier-Vicenty finished with a team-high 25 kills and Bilbraut earned MVP honors of the match with his spectacular play from his libero position. Bilbraut made several brilliant diving saves, finishing the with 31 digs and serving up three aces.
“The game is never over, we just keep playing. That’s something we’ve built on, we’ve built on the fact that the game is never over until the final point and the final whistle,” junior setter Evan Metzger said immediately following the monumental comeback, “Going into that last set knew we had to close. It’s a 15-point set, so we had to keep the errors minimal and we had to keep fighting no matter what.”
The Bobcats of South Windsor scored the first three points of the final stanza, but Metzger helped close out the Indians’ final rally of the season. The junior dished out the last of his 55 assists, a perfectly placed pass to senior Zach Harmon, who slammed down the championship-clinching point.
“We had been in this position so many times before and we just had to stay focused and come back,” recalled Dau, who served up the championship-winning rally, “We were even more focused and more hungry after losing the first two sets.”
It was the final turnaround for a team that also came back to win from two sets down in the first-round of the tourney and began the season losing four of their first eight matches, including a straight-sets loss to South Windsor on April 5.
“It’s been a tremendous 180. We knew we had the skills and we knew we had the ability to be great. We kept working in practice and we kept working the games. We’re a family,” said Metzger.
The win was another notch in the belt for head coach Curt Burns, who has now guided the Indians to five championship matches since 2011, winning four of them.
“He really drills the skills into us,” Dau said of his veteran coach, “He’s very consistent with his coaching and he’s always really supportive.”
“Coach Burns runs a great program. We’re just able to win it over and over, it’s gotta be the coach,” added a smiling Cloutier.
As of now, Cloutier and Metzger will be the only seniors on the roster in 2018.
Dau, Ithier-Vicenty, Bilbraut, and Harmon are four of eight players who are graduating.
Losing that much talent would normally force a program into a rebuilding mode, but the Newington volleyball team doesn’t believe in rebuilding. They just reload.
The National Basketball Association draft is upon us and dozens of young basketball prospects will fulfill their professional dreams. Here’s how the lottery selections would pan out if NBA teams chose between the gifted players that starred at the five local schools this past winter.
Welcome to the Bizarro Basketball Draft…
1. Boston Celtics: Ahmod Privott- G- Middletown: Privott has a unique skillset that could help put the contending Celtics over the top in the East. The Middletown prospect has a well-rounded game with no holes and has the ability to play inside and out on offense. He’s stout enough to defend multiple positions and he’ll enter Boston with a ton of game experience. His ability to play with pace will fit Brad Steven’s offense like a glove.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Jared Simmons- G- Newington: The pride of Newington is a dynamic playmaker that will blend perfectly with the Lakers budding roster. Simmons has an explosive first step, which allows him to relentlessly attack the bucket and he’s also a willing passer. He thrives as an off-ball defender, turning defense into offense, and his up-tempo style could bring Showtime back to La La Land.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Alex Sikorski- G- Rocky Hill: Sikorski is an impressive athlete that can shoot from all angles with a picturesque jumper. The Sixers needs wing players and Sikorski is quick enough to play guard and long enough to defend stretch forwards. Rocky Hill’s own has underrated court vision with active hands on the defensive end.
4. Phoenix Suns: Michael Mozzicato- F- Wethersfield: Phoenix has several young pieces in place, but needs more consistent perimeter scoring and Mozzicato can fill that need with his ability to shoot and put the ball on the floor. He’s a rangy athlete that plays with desire and confidence.
5. Sacramento Kings: Tyshaun James- F- Middletown: James has the leadership qualities to repair an organization and roster that has been gutted. Has a quarterback’s mentality on the perimeter and has deceptive strength down low. Has a lot of Scottie Pippen in his game, which the fans in Sacramento will enjoy.
6. Orlando Magic: Noah Budzik- G- Cromwell: A rhythm shooter with unlimited range. Orlando has an athletic roster, but is lacking a knock down shooter and Budzik has the sweetest stroke in the draft. Cromwell’s court general is comfortable with the ball in his hands and not afraid to take it to the cup. He’s also a scrappy defender despite his lack of size.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Matt McKinnon- F- Newington: The T-Wolves are lacking someone that is willing to bang down low and McKinnon fits the bill. A solidly-framed athlete that is an automatic double-double and possesses a great touch around the basket. Very coachable kid, who coach Thibs will love.
8. New York Knicks: DeAaron Lawrence- G- Middletown: Lawrence will love playing under the bright light of MSG. Combines next-level athleticism with a deadly accurate shot from beyond the arc. He’s a competitor that will not back down from a challenge and plays with a tremendous amount of confidence.
9. Dallas Mavericks: Jimmy Sullivan- F- Wethersfield: The Mavs lack consistency and Sullivan is a do-it-all forward that is impressive on both ends of the floor. He’s got the size to play on the block, but has a high-release and the ability to bury shots down from the outside. His long wingspan allows him to protect the rim and deflect passes.
10. Sacramento Kings: William White- G- Rocky Hill: White will add another explosive athlete to Sacramento’s lineup. The Kings are lacking spot-up shooters and that’s what White does best, possessing deep range and a beautiful rainbow shot. A fierce competitor with a football mentality who will not be pushed around.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Reese Reyes- F- Cromwell: The Hornets keep knocking on the postseason door and now add another fundamentally sound player to the mix. Reyes is known for his ability to defend on the block, but is a savvy offensive player that has a knack for generating points and is an underrated passer.
12. Detroit Pistons: Dan Tonna- C/F- Rocky Hill: Tonna will add brute strength to an already physical frontcourt in Detroit. An enforcer in the middle that makes players think twice about taking it to the bucket. Also an emotional leader that works hard on both ends and battled back from an injury this past season.
13. Denver Nuggets: Nicholas Arcata- G- Wethersfield: Court general with great vision. Arcata will bolster a talented lineup in Denver with his versatility and ability to push the tempo. Elite lateral quickness will allow him to check quicker guards and he’s not afraid to crash the glass.
14. Miami Heat: Sean Melaven- F- Cromwell: Melaven is the consummate worker, who does all the little things. Erik Spoelstra will love his willingness to chase offensive boards and take charges. Should be a Udonis Haslem-type and a solid contributor for years to come.
(Head coach Mike Dudis (middle) with Alicia Dabek and Brooke Chao to his right and Reva Shah and Urja Desai to his left)
When Mike Dudis took over as the head coach of girls’ tennis team at Rocky Hill, the program was struggling to find an identity.
“To be honest I had no idea what I was doing. I took over and the program was relatively in shambles, we were coming off a two-win season and it was more of a club activity rather than a sport,” recalled Dudis, “The goal was to make it a more serious thing and since then we’ve been building up to where we are now.”
Six years and five straight state tournament appearances later, Dudis and his Terriers are coming off their first quarterfinals berth in school history after upsetting St. Paul Catholic in the first round of the Class S tourney on May 27.
“St. Paul in my opinion was our best win of the season, because they were a good team with two super strong players at the 1 and 2 spots. We got swept 1 through 3 singles rather quickly and we were down 3-0,” stated Dudis, whose team rallied to defeat the fifth ranked Falcons 4-3, “I knew our best chance was to win four singles and sweep the three doubles and that’s what we did.”
Dudis described the tourney victory as a total team effort, which was spearheaded by a pair of the team’s captains that serendipitously became doubles partners late in the regular season.
Seniors Urja Desai and Brooke Chao trailed 2-4 in their match against St. Paul, but stormed back to win 6-4, 6-2, keeping the team’s chances of winning alive.
“It was amazing,” Chao said of the tourney victory, “The last couple of matches were the best matches that I’ve had my whole career in high school. It felt very good especially because I was playing with Urja. We’ve been friends for a long time and through the tough times we encouraged each other. Once we were together, we were undefeated. We were 6 and 0.”
Desai entered the season as the team’s #1, but a series of injuries hindered the all-conference athlete and her senior season almost ended after she injured her lower leg in early May.
“When she got hurt against Manchester it was a bad injury. It was coupled with the worst loss we’ve had in six years as a program. We lost a match that we never should have lost, but I was more concerned with Urja. It was just a rough day and by far the worst day of the season. She told me that night that she had fractured her ankle. I was really bummed for her, but they got a second opinion and it was just a bad sprain,” recalled Dudis, “She couldn’t move all that well when she came back and it wasn’t fair to put her in a singles position. She had asked me during her sophomore year to play doubles and I said you’re never playing double ever again. It was just ironic that she ended up finishing out 6-0 where she started as a freshman and made all-conference her first two years. Without her coming back there is no way that we make the quarterfinals.”
“When I got hurt everyone had to move up and I’m so thankful that they took whatever was coming their way. When I wasn’t playing I felt the team was a little unstable because everyone changed their positions. I was just trying to be out there supporting them and helping them out,” said Desai, who has been playing tennis since age 11 and credits Dudis for helping make her a better player, “He’s amazing, he actually one of my sole supporters throughout my tennis career. He’s been there from day one and been there through all of my ups and downs, every single one.”
Chao and Desai make up half of the team’s captain from this past spring. Alicia Dabek and Reva Shah make up the other half.
“I was motivated to do tennis by my sister who played tennis before me. I decided to try and it turns out that I really liked the sport. I like that it’s an individual sport. It’s very graceful, it’s not really rugged or brutal,” said Dabek, who started playing as a freshman, “After my first year, I started to comprehend it and I got better. I’m proud of the progression I’ve made. I never thought I would have gotten this far, to still be playing after four years.”
Shah was elected captain as a junior and assumed the number one singles position after the injury to Desai. She thrived in her new role, finishing with a record of 11-4.
“I had the privilege of being one of the captains and I felt like I knew the girls a lot better and I was able to bond with them a lot more closely. I felt like I had all of their support and I also felt like I had more experience,” said Shah, who reflected fondly on the tournament victory, “Being on the team to make it there was definitely an accomplishment. It felt amazing and I feel like I played a big part in it.”
Shah went on to compete in the Open Finals at Yale in early June. She held her own, before losing 8-4 to Elena Tormo of Holy Cross.
“I think it will help a lot. Now I can see how good the girls really are and that will make me want to practice that much harder,” Shah said about the New Haven-based competition, “Last year I didn’t play anyone with that great of an ability, so I thought maybe they hit it a little faster, but I hadn’t played anyone like her. Now I know how much room there is for growth.”
The four captains helped pave the way for the most successful season in program history, finishing 12-7 in the regular season and winning the division championship for the first time in school history. The team finished 5-0 in the CCC South-White, a division that will be non-existent next year.
“This was something that we’ve been building for three years and this group set the goal at the beginning of the season to win the division, which I had been talking about since we lost to Berlin last year,” stated Dudis, whose team defeated Berlin 4-3 on April 28, “I told them afterwards that we are forever the CCC South-White champions, because there is no more South-White division. This group has come together tremendously. We had two major injuries and I’ve done more coaching this year than I’ve ever done and the kids responded. That’s probably the best thing I can say about this group, they’ve responded to adversity and still pushed through.”
“The captains have been great. They were awesome and they’re part of the history of getting this first step,” continued Dudis, “Whatever we do beyond this has a lot to do with them and the way that they brought this together. Now hopefully people around the school will recognize that we’re starting to become a bigger program.”
The Terriers, who defeated Woodland 7-0 in the qualifying round prior to their victory over St. Paul, lost in the second round to Weston, who went on to repeat as Class S state champions. The loss was just another building block for the budding program.
“It meant a lot to the program and it was a great experience to go down there. I tried telling the girls that this is a defending state champion and they have some players that are just awesome,” stated Dudis.
The quarterfinal defeat signified the end of high school tennis for a handful of seniors, but the foundation has been laid for another tourney run next spring.
Shah, who is coming off her second straight all-CCC selection, will return along talented juniors Nicole Chamberlain (17-4) and Melanie Holmes, who had won six straight matches prior to suffering an injury. Sophomore Rachel Calcagni also got some valuable singles experience this spring.
“I want to practice a lot more with my dad. I don’t want to stop playing because the season is over,” said Shah, who also runs cross country and indoor track, “I want to come back next year a lot stronger.”
Doubles partners Aly Fishberg and Katrina Granovskiy will also be returning after teaming up to win 17 of their 19 matches together.
Marisa Anderson and freshman Rekha Dunn will also be back, after joining forces to win a pair of tournament matches as doubles partners.
“Obviously the goal next year is to repeat as champions and that’s going to be tough to do,” stated Dudis, “We picked up a first place schedule, but I fully expect us to compete with Wethersfield for that division title. I believe we’re the top two teams in the division and we did lose to them this year, so I will be circling that game just like I did the Berlin game this year. We have a chance next year to have our strongest team ever. I really believe that, because we have so much varsity experience.”
Dudis’ main focus is his tennis team, but he also doubles as an assistant football and boys’ basketball coach, as well as coaching various summer league teams.
“It makes the year go by so fast,” the dedicated coach said of his hectic schedule, “For me I’m at a point in my life where I love the community, I love the school, and the kids make it easy. We have a great group of kids in whatever sport I coach and I also have to give a shout out to the parents. I have not dealt with an issue in six years. That makes it a lot easier, because you know you have the support of the parents.”
Come next spring Dudis will have his tennis team back on the court striving towards the next goal, but it will be without the three graduating captain, who are all off to the University of Connecticut. The trio reflected glowingly on their experiences at Rocky Hill.
“This team has just been amazing. I’ve been a pain to this team with all my injuries and I know that they have been there for me through all of my ups and downs for all four years. I’m so grateful that I was part of this amazing team,” said Desai, who will study Business Administration at Storrs.
“It was wonderful to leave the school by achieving that goal and milestone that we set for ourselves. It’s a very fun team. We’re like a second family, which is very nice. It’s a wonderful atmosphere,” added Dabek.
“When I was a sophomore I was just trying to get the ball over the net, but now I can focus more on where I want to get the ball. I can slam it, I can go down the alley, I can control the ball a lot more,” added Chao, who will join Dabek as they each work towards degrees in the medical field, “This was a very fun team to be on. There are girls from all different social groups and backgrounds, but we all get along so well. We motivate each other, we cheer each other on. It’s an environment that you can’t explain, it’s amazing. You have to be in it to understand,”
Dudis praised the seniors for creating a winning environment and summed up the impressions left by the departing players.
“The lasting impression of this team is that 2017 championship banner. I told the girls that it’s something that you can look back on that will be up there forever. That’s the lasting legacy that this team will have and that legacy will be a big part of these seniors.”
(Kat Lagace pitched a complete game, striking out nine)
Facing a full count with two outs in the top of the 7th inning, Newington head coach Steve Markie called for time and approached the mound to give his pitcher a pep talk.
“Where’d those pitches miss,“ Markie jokingly asked his all-state ace Kat Lagace, “She kind of laughed and said I don’t know, so I said okay you’re going to throw a changeup and get the last out.”
Markie’s advice worked as Lagace’s next pitch was lined out to center, preserving a 6-1 victory over the visiting Eagles from Enfield in the first-round of the Class LL tournament last Monday night.
The Indians entered the postseason having lost three of their final four regular season games, but the coach wasn’t concerned about a tourney letdown.
“We had a good scrimmage the other day against Rockville that gave us some confidence back, because they have an all-state pitcher themselves and we hit the ball fairly well that game. I thought we gained a little confidence in the scrimmage,” recalled Markie, “We were very sharp today and we came out and did what we were supposed to do. We got a couple of timely hits early on, scored two runs in the first and two in the second and Kat pitched very, very well today.”
Lagace was laser-focused on the afternoon, striking out nine and allowing only four hits. It was a pitching performance that Markie and his team have become accustomed to over the past two seasons.
“Today she used all of her pitches and she was pretty efficient with what pitches she threw. She kept them off balance the whole game and that’s all we ask for,” stated Markie, who added that Lagace has taken her game to a new level this spring, “She’s smarter, she understands that it’s not always about striking people out and it’s about being efficient. Getting outs is getting outs, it doesn’t matter how you do it.”
The senior hurler has started every game over the past two seasons and found an added sense of comfort on the hill this spring, winning 15 of her 20 starts, including seven shutouts.
“This year I feel that I have a lot more confidence in myself,” said Lagace, who won 14 of her 22 starts a season ago, “Last year whenever something bad would happened I would kind of get down on myself, but this year I’m obviously a year older and I feel a lot more confident and I know I have a great team to back me up.”
Part of her confidence stems from the relationship she has with the team’s catcher, Kinsey DelBuono.
“On the field and off the field she’s one of my best friends and we have that connection where she knows what I want to throw and I know what she’s thinking,” Lagace said of the close bond, “We’ve been on the same wavelength in every game and in practice.”
Markie believes that a strong connection between a pitcher and catcher is invaluable.
“I’ve been lucky in many of my years our pitchers and catchers have been really good friends and hang out outside of softball. It just helps,” stated Markie, who just wrapped up his 18th season in Newington’s dugout, “When Kinsey decided that she was going to start to catch, she went with Kat to all of her pitching lessons and learned how she wanted to set up batters. Having that bond is super huge and when they get into the game they know each other so well. Kinsey is the type of kid that will call timeout when she sees that something is going on and she’ll get everyone together and get everyone refocused. She does that without me having to go out there and do it. For a high school senior to be able to do that is huge and she’s come a long, long way in the four years that she’s been here.”
The pitcher-catcher combo makes up half of the seniors on Markie’s roster this season. Kacey Blais and Lindsey Mangiafico are the other two.
Blais finished the season with 24 hits, 20 runs, and 13 RBIs and Mangiafico registered 16 runs and drove in six on 18 hits.
“Kacey has done a great job at playing second and batting second for us. She’s hit really, really well,” said Markie, who praised the quartet of seniors for their leadership, “They’re not the most vocal group of kids, but they do the things that we need to do to get it done. They keep it positive, they keep people going and doing the right things. We have good leadership from those kids. They do a lot of the little things that probably go unnoticed by a lot of other people, but as coaches we definitely see it.”
The next day following the victory over Enfield, the seniors played their final game in Newington blue and gold, losing 9-0 at Stamford in the second round of the tourney. The team went down swinging, but could only manage three hits in the loss. One of those hits was from Lagace, who also thrived at the plate this season, finishing with a team-high 23 RBIs.
The seniors left their stamp on the program, winning 30 of 44 games over the past two seasons, including a 12-game winning streak earlier this year. The team also won a tournament games in each of those seasons, shutting out Ridgefield 7-0 in the first round of the 2016 Class LL tournament.
There will no doubt be a void in 2018, but Markie will also have a solid core returning to the diamond next season, led by now-sophomores Cyan Gonzalez and Rachel Thureson.
Gonzalez earned all-state honors and was the team’s most reliable hitter this spring, hitting .539 and connecting on a team-high in hits (41) and scoring a team-high in runs (38), including two homeruns. She cemented the tourney win over Enfield in the 4th inning when she cranked a single, driving in Mangiafico and Yasmin Rincon for two of her three RBIs on the day.
Both Lagace and Markie are amazed by the maturity of Gonzalez.
“She’s a great player. I honestly look up to her, even though she’s younger than me. When she gets up to bat I have so much confidence in her,” said Lagace, “She just makes me so happy because I wish I was that good and I had that much confidence when I was that age. She’s such a good player and I know that she’ll do great things in the future.”
“She just knows how to play the game. She’s very smart and she understands the game very well. There are things that she brings to the game that we can’t take credit for as coaches,” added Markie, “She makes plays and oozes confidence and that rubs off on the other kids around her. Nothing rattles her and she goes out and does her thing and the other kids feed off of it.”
Thureson hit her first career homerun in the tourney win, connecting on a two-run blast in the first inning. She finished her sophomore campaign with 31 hits, 26 runs, and 15 RBIs.
“We knew last year that she was a really special player and I think people around here are going to see that she’s going to be a force for the next couple of years,” Markie said of his Thureson, who plays first base.
Come next spring the veteran coach’s toughest task will be replacing the rocket right arm of Lagace, who is off to play at Sage College in Albany, NY. Freshman Dani Pantano saw some action on the mound this spring and should be ready to assume the fulltime duties when next year rolls around.
Wethersfield Hardball Wraps Up Terrific Season
Eagles’ baseball won 15 of 20 regular season games, which included a late-season 9-3 victory at Rocky Hill. Junior Jimmy Sullivan was a monster from the plate, driving in seven runs while going 4-4 on jacking a homerun. Tim Blaisdell chipped in with a pair of doubles and pitcher Kyle Bukowski went the whole way, allowing four hits and striking out six.
The day after defeating their crosstown rival, the Eagles came from behind to beat Glastonbury 3-2. The team trailed 2-0 heading into the bottom of the 7th, but Michael Santiago had a walk-off single which drove in a pair to complete the rally.
The strong regular season earned Wethersfield a spot in the Class L tourney. Blaisdell took the mound and had a spectacular pitching performance in the first-round, throwing a complete game shutout and fanning 10 batters in the Eagles 4-0 victory over Woodstock.
The team’s season ended in the second-round, losing to Watertown 2-1 in extra innings. It was the final game for ten seniors, including Santiago. The Eagles will have Sullivan, Blaisdell, and Bukowski heading a strong senior class returning next spring.
(Wethersfield's Tim Blaisdell)
(Rachel Roncaioli pitched a complete game)
Not a driving rain or the premiere of The Bachelorette could prevent Rocky Hill and Wethersfield from playing their annual softball game last Monday night.
On a wet and chilly evening, the Terriers held off the upstart Eagles 15-9 at Elm Ridge Park in Rocky Hill.
“It feels great. Even if it was our last game, it was a great way to close out our season,” said Rocky Hill senior Riley Pickett, “It was very special to have this moment with these girls on the field that I started it all on.”
The season finale victory was the seventh win for the Terriers, who finished a game shy of qualifying for the postseason.
Pickett saved one of her best performances for last, going 3-3 and scoring three runs. The shortstop reached base on all five of her plate appearances and also stole six bases.
It was the final game for the soon-to-be graduate, who is off play collegiately at Lesley University in Massachusetts. She followed up an all-conference selection in 2016 with another spectacular season, earning all-state honors despite the team navigating through a brutal schedule this spring.
“We remained positive and we went into every game with the same attitude. We knew that there were teams with better records and they’ve beaten other teams that we’ve lost to, but we’re just going to go out there and play our hardest because we’re a good team and we know how well we can play,” added Pickett, “We stuck together and we maintained that positive attitude no matter what.”
Pickett, along with Erin Kelly, are the only two seniors that head coach Tyler Catlin had on his roster and both left a lasting impression on the second-year skipper.
“I’ve coached both baseball and softball and I’ve never seen a kid cares as much as Riley Pickett. She cares so much about the team’s success and her own personal success on the field,” reflected Catlin, “Erin is a gritty ball player that is willing to do whatever to help the team. She was always willing and ready. They were wonderful leaders and I’m going to miss those two.”
Trailing 3-0 in the first inning, Kelly helped the home team get on the scoreboard with a single, driving in leadoff hitter Sophie Kurdziel who had tripled.
The offense never looked back from that point on and, after a shaky first inning, pitcher Rachel Roncaioli settled in and threw a complete game.
She also helped her own cause in the fourth inning when she smacked a single, driving home Melanie Tejada and Megan Khanna, extending the lead to 12-4.
“I would call her an unsung hero. She really stepped up and pitched some big games and she can really zip the ball in there,” Catlin said of his junior hurler, “I hope that during the offseason she continues to work on some of her off-speed pitches because she can be really effective next year. She showed some serious promise throughout the year.”
Catcher Maddi Santo will also be returning next spring. Santo made the defensive play of the night in the third inning when she gunned down
Wethersfield’s Madeline Johnson, who was attempting to steal second base. The out ended the inning and left a runner stranded at third.
“She’s night and day better than she was last year and even at the beginning of the season,” Catlin said of Santo, “She had a lot of difficulty blocking the ball last year, but her work with our assistant coach Erin Weber didn’t not go unnoticed. She’s blocking the ball, she’s being aggressive and she knows where she’s going with the ball. I look forward to seeing how much more she can develop throughout the summer and into next season.”
The tandem of Roncaioli and Santo will head a large group of nine juniors returning to the diamond in 2018.
The season may have ended without a tourney berth, but postseason or not, the philosophy in the dugout remained the same.
“I don’t think these girls knew how great their potential could be, so we had difficulties sometimes. We did show a little confidence and they displayed some skills and they were able to produce for us. I’m looking forward to seeing how that translates into next season when we return quite a few starters,” stated Catlin, who celebrated with his team before jetting off to watch his favorite reality show, The Bachelorette, “I think we have a climate around here. The captains did a great job at establishing this climate where the kids want to come and have fun. They want to practice hard and play hard and that’s what I’m trying to push too. No matter what happens we have to be able to turn the page and that’s the mindset that I’m trying to instill on our young team.”
Wethersfield Softball Makes the Dance
The Wethersfield softball team may have lost to their rivals last Monday night, but the youthful team finished the regular season on the highest of notes, winning back-to-back games against Hall last Tuesday and Wednesday night to finish the season 8-12 and reach the tournament for the first time in four years.
“We’re seeing more confident at-bats as the season has went along and that’s a good thing,” head coach Colleen Budaj said following the Rocky Hill game, “It gives us a lot to build on.”
The game against Rocky Hill was a bit of a microcosm of their season. They trailed 15-6 and were down to their final out in the seventh inning, but managed to churn out three more runs before all was said and done.
Senior Emily Swanson crossed the plate and then Joyce Santos drove in Jillian Gray and Maya Mulholland before the final out.
“No matter what the situation is, we don’t want the kids to give up on themselves or each other. We’ve been preaching all year that we are this family and you don’t let your family down,” added Budaj, “If you make a mistake, no problem you’ve got the next one. We never give up no matter what the situation is. I don’t care if we’ve given up 15 runs, you never give up on yourself or each other. I think we’ll see the benefits of that in the future.”
Swanson, Santos, and Olivia McGrath are the three seniors that have steadied the ship, along with junior captain Emma Zaleski. The four have all played well in the field and helped groom the next generation at Wethersfield.
Swanson pitched both games against Hall and Zaleski was instrumental from the plate in the two victories, blasting four hits and scoring five runs in a 20-4 win at Hall last Tuesday. The next night, she tripled, which drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the 4th inning and then drove in an insurance run in her next at-bat during a 9-4 victory at Mill Woods Park.
“They have a calming presence on the field. We are a young team and we make mistakes, but they help those younger kids step away from the mistake and make the next play. Without that calming presence and that belief in each other we wouldn’t be able to do that,” a proud Budaj said, “It’s hard when you make a couple of mistake in the game. Usually the team that makes the least mistakse is going to win and so those seniors help limit those mistakes. They have game IQ and they know the game very well. They’re constantly talking and constantly teaching. It’s a teaching game and they are doing a lot of teaching in the moment, which is huge and invaluable for the younger kids.”
Budaj are her captains are working with a talented group of up-and-comers, including four starting freshmen.
“My three captains have done a stellar job of taking the kids under their wing. It’s tough jumping up from the level they’ve played at to the varsity level. However I think the experience that these four freshmen have gained will make a difference in the future,” stated Budaj, “They’re learning to play at this level. It’s rare that you start four freshmen at the varsity level, but I think they are coming along.”
The freshmen include Gray, who has become a reliable hitter and has played shortstop. Kaitlyn Fischer got the start on the mound against Rocky Hill and Zoe Kleeblatt is starting behind the dish.
Gray and Kleeblatt each scored three runs in Tuesday’s triumph of Hall.
“She’s not a catcher by trade, she’s a shortstop,” Budaj said of Kleeblatt, “I told all the freshmen this year that I had an opening and she jumped at it to help the team. She’s an excellent shortstop, but she stepped outside her comfort zone because we needed it and I respect that a lot.”
All told the team won three of their final five games to reach the Class LL tournament and a first-round date with Middletown. The Eagles received a boost late in the season from Budaj’s daughter and 2016 graduate, Summer, who is helping the team during her break from college. In between innings against Rocky Hill, the former all-conference catcher was working with Fischer and has added another veteran voice in the dugout.
2017 has produced a postseason appearance. There’s no telling what the Eagles have in store for 2018.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin