The road to the first championship for Wethersfield baseball was not paved in gold.
There were a lot of twists, turns and bumps along the way. But in the end the turbulent ride made reaching their final destination even more rewarding.
“We’ve gotten so many congratulations,” said senior pitcher Tim Blaisdell, “The whole school really feels it. It’s been awesome.”
On June 8, a 16-4 victory over Windsor at Palmer Field in Middletown etched the program’s first title in stone.
For head coach Mark Bagdasarian the title was twelve years in the making and the Eagles championship pedigree was built during a yearlong journey that began following a second-round home loss to Watertown in the 2017 Class L tournament.
“Going into the season we knew we had a talented group of kids and I think from day one they thought they needed to be perfect and that they shouldn’t lose because of the talent that we have,” recalled Bagdasarian, “For good parts at the beginning of the year I felt pressure from the community, from parents. In baseball it’s not always the talent that you have, it’s the team that plays best and we took some lumps as we were trying to figure out this puzzle.”
Expectations were high because the Eagles had a loaded lineup with 11 seniors, including Blaisdell and returning all-state slugger Jimmy Sullivan.
But after winning the first four games of the season the Eagles stumbled, losing five of their next eight and finishing the regular season 13-7.
Following a loss to Newington late in the regular season, the Eagles needed a come-from-behind victory against a one-win Maloney team to secure a home game in the tournament.
“It was our Senior Day and we were losing 2-0 in the 4th inning to Maloney and it got rained out. We came back the next day and we ended up winning 6-4,” recalled the veteran coach, “We were happy to get a first-round home game.”
Senior Tyler Fote recalled his coach’s unwavering message following the loss to Newington.
“After that game coach told us that you win some and you lose some but all that matters is that you win your last game. From that point on we bonded. Throughout the regular season we were just playing just to play. Sometimes it felt like we weren’t playing with each other but as soon the tournament started we were all in it to win it and the results showed.”
Wethersfield entered the Class L tourney as the #11-seed and opened with a 5-0 shutout of Stratford behind a dynamic pitching performance from Blaisdell, who tossed a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
Thanks to first and second round upsets on their side of the bracket, the Eagles would play two more home games at WHS. First was a dramatic walk-off win over Torrington followed by a 7-3 victory over New Fairfield in the quarterfinal round.
“I think playing at home helped. Getting in our routine before the other team showed up gave us a sense of normalcy instead of getting out of school and getting on a bus and traveling halfway across the state,” stated Bagdasarian, who was assisted by coaches Jim Schiavone, Pat Dowd, and Conor Stanley.
“We wanted to get past the second round. It was something that we wanted to get off our backs and when we got to the third round we just kept playing better and better and it felt like it could happen,” added Blaisdell, “As we kept winning the tournament games we kept getting more confidence because the bats came together, the fielding came together, everything just started to come together. Our focus was better and we had each other’s backs.”
In the semifinals the Eagles traveled to Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford and eliminated Guilford 4-1 behind a superb pitching effort from senior Kyle Bukowski.
Following the triumph, the team arrived back at WHS and continued a new tradition they had started less than a month prior.
“We had a bus ticket hanging in the dugout and it had each of the rounds on it. As we kept winning we kept crossing them off. When we got home from the Dunkin Donuts game we came into the dugout and crossed it out and went crazy,” stated Blaisdell.
“We were all about that golden ticket. That gave us a lot of energy. It felt like we couldn’t lose after that, we felt unstoppable,” added Fote.
Marc Generis also accidentally created his own ritual. Before each tourney game the junior would overthrow Mark Bagdasarian Jr. in warmups. The first time was a mistake, but after the team won the errant throws became superstition.
“When we got to the Yard Goat he threw one over the road and in the title game he threw one into the woods,” a laughing Blaisdell recalled.
Whether it was meant to be or the rituals had worked, the Eagles had advanced to the championship game to play a Windsor team that had won 22 of 24 games. The Warriors had dealt the Eagles their worst loss of the season back in April, a 14-4 drubbing. They were also the #1-seed in Class L and had only allowed three runs in four tournament games leading up to the title tilt.
But all that changed when Sullivan and the boys stepped to the plate.
“We just did our thing. We were a little more aggressive than we were the first time against them,” said Sullivan, who cemented his place in championship lore with two homeruns and two triples, “That was definitely the best game of my high school career.”
“If anybody would have said before the game that we would score 16 runs I would have said ‘no way’,” added Bagdasarian, “I gathered the kids after the national anthem and told them that these guys gave us one pretty good and we own them one. We had an opportunity to do something really good. Everything just clicked, it became contagious.”
Wethersfield jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning and cruised to the 12-run victory behind Sullivan’s epic night and another solid outing on the mound from Blaisdell.
“We’ve been playing together since we were ten,” said Sullivan, who is off to play collegiately at the University of Virginia, “It’s very rewarding. Going into high school our goal was to win a state title. It had never been done here before so it was great to get it done our senior year.”
“Coach just kept telling us that one time our best game is going to happen and our best games seem to happen every playoff game,” added Blaisdell, who will pitch at the University of Hartford next spring, “We knew that we could never quit, like when we were down against Torrington we just knew to keep fighting. We just kept believing.”
Fote capped off his incredible five-game tourney with another deep shot in the championship game. All told, he cranked three homeruns during the tourney and hit for the cycle in the win over New Fairfield.
“I’d say that’s by far the best five-game stretch that I’ve had. All the credit goes out to my teammates, all my coaches, and my father that worked day and night with me in the cages. It was awesome to see it come up in the biggest games of my high school career,” said the senior shortstop.
Bagdasarian credited Fote and his balanced lineup for the turnaround in the tourney.
“Tyler is a very good player, he’s played a lot of baseball over the years and he had a huge tournament all together. It wasn’t like we were throwing balls out of the park all year, but in the tournament our power numbers came about. Tyler was a big part of that.”
“Our top four, Jimmy, Mark, Tyler, and Derek Tenney were huge for us all year. We knew that people knew Jimmy Sullivan, but I think it was really important that the other three had big tournaments. We thought they’d try and pitch around Jimmy but luckily they didn’t have the opportunity to do that because of those guys. They made pitching around Jimmy very, very difficult.”
Bagdasarian’s sons, Mark Jr. and Matthew, experienced the championship season with their father. Mark Jr. earned all-conference as a junior and Matthew played an important role as a sophomore.
“I don’t want to say that I feel bad for them having their dad as a coach but it’s a tough dynamic. I’m a little bit tougher on them because the expectations. They both grew this year and it was good because they understand about getting through adversity. It was extremely special to share it with them.”
Once the celebratory dust settled at Palmer field the Eagles took the short bus ride back to Wethersfield High School, arriving at nightfall. The team took out a flashlight before going into the dugout one final time to cross out the championship round on the bus ticket.
It was a moment and a season that the coach and his players will never forget.
“It was really rewarding for many reasons. It was nice because this team had so much pressure on them and to see them rattle off five in a row when it was most important just made it really satisfying,” stated Bagdasarian.
“We wanted to be the first team to ever walk through these halls with a state championship. It means everything,” added Fote, “We’re all going to hang out ten years from this, twenty years from this and talk about it. It’s something that we’ll always have.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin