Christian Budzik’s first year as the head baseball coach at Cromwell was a mixed bag.
The 23-year old skipper inherited a youthful team that showed a lot of positive signs on the field but were on the wrong side of several close games.
“They say that baseball is a game of inches and it really just comes down to a few bounces one way or another,” Budzik said following a 4-1 loss to Bristol Eastern last Tuesday at CHS.
Cromwell lost 15 of the 20 games this spring, yet eight of those losses came by a single run.
“It’s been tough, but it’s good that we’re in tight games because it will help us be a good team for years to come. These young guys are getting good experience.”
Even the loss to Bristol Eastern was decided in a single inning. The game was tied heading into the fifth before the visiting Lancers scored three in the top of the inning and held serve the rest of the way.
“You have to stay as positive as you possibly can. The seniors have done a good job staying positive and helping these younger guys come along,” added Budzik, “They’re young, they’re learning. We’ve gotten a lot better as the year has gone on.”
Despite the growing pains, the Panthers showed their resolve during the last month of the season by winning three of their final five games against tourney-bound teams.
On May 6 they trounced powerhouse Haddam-Killingworth 13-4, handing the Cougars their most lopsided defeat of the season.
Junior Nick Polizonis earned the win and senior Mason Fox picked up the save, combining to allow only six hits against H-K’s powerful lineup.
Polizonis also scored three runs and freshman Elias DeLeon added three hits, driving in three more runs.
The final pair of wins came over an eight-day span against rival Valley Regional.
First was a 4-1 win behind the strong left arm of Fox, who pitched a complete game and fanned eight. Fellow senior Jack Dooley drove in a pair of runs offensively.
“We didn’t have any pitchers with full time varsity experience coming in, but our pitching staff has held up pretty well and we didn’t give up a lot of runs. Mason Fox really stepped up,” said Budzik.
The seniors left on a high note with an 18-6 last Thursday at Deep River during the season finale. Tyler Baldwin delivered a solid pitching performance and sophomore Tino Gagliardi had a huge game from the plate, scoring four runs and driving in four more on five hits. Dooley added four RBIs.
“The seniors have laid the foundation for what is to come over the coming years,” Budzik said of Fox, Dooley, Ryan Carroll, and Jason Wicker.
Following 11 seasons under the tutelage of Lewis Pappariella---which included 11 winning seasons, five Shoreline titles, and a state championship---the program’s first season under Budzik’s control is complete and he’s looking forward to establishing his own standard of winning.
Budzik played for Pappariella from 2010-2013 and then went on to star at Eastern Connecticut State University, earning team MVP during his senior season at ECSU.
Many of his coaching principles are derived from Pappariella and he credits the players with helping ease his transitions from player to coach.
“They have really helped me as much as anything. I’m not the one out there making the plays. When they win, it’s on them. I’ve grown a lot and gotten more confident making adjustments. It’s been a learning year.”
May’s success was a glimpse of what the future could look like over the next couple of seasons as several starters are returning, including Polizonis and Baldwin, who were captains this spring.
“They’ve both been great. They took on a big role at the beginning of the year and they were both starters every day. Tyler has grown physically and mentally. As a leader he has grown, he’s probably our best all-around player right now. The way he’s become more vocal has really been what we needed. Same thing with Nick. It’s been good that they’ve been in that leadership role because next year we’re bringing a lot back and we need them to be comfortable in that leadership role moving forward.”
Now, the real preparation begins.
“When you take a step back and look at our roster, we have a lot coming back, but I tell them that championships are won from June to March not March to June. It’s what you do in the offseason.”
The Starting Five: Athletes of the Week
Sam Jacinto- Cromwell (Tennis): Jacinto has been rock-solid for the Panthers, winning all 18 of his matches this spring, including a perfect record in Shoreline conference play. Head coach Ken Borton has used him in a variety of spots over the last three years and praised his senior captain for his attitude and as a leader, both vocally and by example.
Aslan Tate- Newington (Track & Field): Tate won the high jump, long jump, and triple jump to help Newington boys’ track defeat Wethersfield and capture their first conference championship in 29 years. The senior and his track & field mates now turn their attention to the postseason tournaments.
Ishan Sheth- Rocky Hill (Tennis): Sheth has been the #1 singles player for Rocky Hill, defeating several of his counterparts this spring. The junior earned his second singles victory over Jeff Gamer of Cromwell last Tuesday and now looks forward to his second straight appearance in the state tournament, where he won a Class S first round match a season ago.
Derek Tenney- Wethersfield (Baseball): Tenney had a walk-off homer in the eighth inning and earned the win from the mound, pitching the seventh and eighth inning, in a dramatic 9-8 victory over Glastonbury last Wednesday at WHS. All told the senior knocked three extra-base hits last week, which included a 3-2 win over Rocky Hill last Tuesday at Dunkin Donuts Park.
Jenna Masiello- Cromwell (Softball): Masiello had scored three runs and drove in three more on four hits, including her 100th career hit, during a 14-2 win over Innovation last Thursday. The senior leads the tourney-bound Panthers in both hits and RBIs this season.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin