Back Row (left to right): coach Jim Annino, Craig Dixon, Jack Lefebvre, Joey Potenza, Jared Semper, Ben Fagan, Dave Weston, Brandon Berean, Ian Mihalopoulos, coach Jeff Glowa
Front Row (left to right): Ryan Santello, Anthony Valentin, Jack Corona, Ethan UCol, Tyler Keithan, Ryan Rozich, Henry Stearns, coach John Matteis, Mike Baranski (very front)
The baseball team at Cromwell Middle School had a season for the ages, painting a picture of perfection by defeating all 11 opponents they faced in 2019.
“I’ve been coaching for 15 years and I’ve known a couple of the other teams that have gone undefeated but, being a smaller school, I never thought we would do it,” said veteran skipper Jim Annino, “It’s a very mature group of kids. They all seemed to like each other and regardless of the record they would have been the same.”
“We’re usually close to .500 or below but this season was different. There was great leadership from the kids on this team,” added assistant coach John Matteis.
Perfection began with an 8-5 season-opening win over perennial powerhouse Berlin, who had dominated the season series with Cromwell in previous years.
“They are usually really good. They’re a bigger school, so they have so many more kids to pull from,” Matteis said of Berlin, “Just seeing how we started the season, we were hopeful that it would be different. We just kept rolling with it.”
Following the opener, Annino sensed there was something special about the 2019 group.
“We were up two or three runs and they came back and scored a couple of us. Previous teams would have folded but these kids responded and got the runs back. It was a harbinger of what was going to come for the rest of the season.”
“We preached doing the little things, and our kids were phenomenal at laying down bunts and moving kids along. I think that’s what made the difference.”
What followed was 10 more wins for a team that had all the right pieces fall into place at the right time.
“We just had a lot of talent, a lot of size. We had good pitching, most games one pitcher went the majority of the game. The way our scheduled worked out, one week we played four games, so it was good to have a lot of depth at pitching. We had a lot of depth all around,” added Annino.
Brandon Berean was one of those who shined atop the mound, throwing a no-hitter and another one-hitter, and surrendering minimal runs throughout the season.
Catcher Henry Sterns was another standout, producing from behind the plate and rallying the team by leading players-only meetings during close games.
“Anytime we needed a lift he would always make some kind of a speech. It seemed to work every time,” Matteis said of Sterns, “Our guys never put their heads down, they never look worried that they could lose.”
Production came from the entire roster, including standouts Ian Mihalopoulos and Ben Fagan, who Matteis praised for his hustle.
“Every hit he’d run down, he’d dive after anything. He played multiple positions and was the type of guy that would run out of bounds to catch anything. Very fast, very athletic, a great overall leader on the team.”
Matteis, who teaches STEM at the Middle School, joined Annino in the dugout seven years ago.
“I was doing it for the first eight years by myself and having him come on and split the duties has really helped,” said Annino, who also has Jeff Glowa on his staff, “With some of the drills we get a lot more done with two or three people than with one. I think that’s made a big impact on the program, more repetition.”
As the wins piled up the idea of an undefeated season started to become a reality.
“We tried not to talk about it because we didn’t want to jinx it,” a smiling Matteis recalled.
At 10-0, the team needed one more win over East Hampton to complete the undefeated season.
It was a tight game for the few innings, but just like they had done all season, the team closed with another emphatic win.
Following the victory, Matteis had a jug of water dumped on him in celebration. It was a high-water mark, literally and figuratively, for a team that cemented their legacy at CMS.
“The fact that every player played every game and there was not a single player that we had to worry about putting in spots. Kids would play anywhere we told them to go,” Matteis said of the lasting impression of the championship squad, “It’s like they say, you’re only as strong as your weakest link and we didn’t have one. There was no weak link. It made it great for playing time, nobody was just sitting the bench, everyone was a part of every win. We didn’t just put our top nine out there. Especially at the middle school level when you’re trying to get everyone a chance to have those starting roles to see what that feels like. I hope we continue to have teams like this, but we were really lucky to have a team like this. It was not only great to have great kids, but great parents to go along with them.”
Shortly after the season ended, the parents had shirts made for the players that read ‘Undefeated’.
The shirts not only symbolized a perfect record, but also a perfect team that came together at the perfect time.
“Whoever we threw in, it seemed to work this year,” said Annino, “It was really a team effort from top to bottom.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin