2017 WHS graduates Jaden Krueger, Mike Alessandra, Eric Shields, and Jared Christensen helped lead Puerto Vallarta to a men's softball championship
Wethersfield High School’s baseball team won a state championship in June and earlier this month a group of recent alums captured a town softball title in dramatic fashion.
2017 graduates Mike Alessandra and Jaden Krueger had an idea to form a team days before the town’s summer softball season was set to begin.
“Mike asked me if we should start a softball team,” recalled Krueger, who was the team’s pitcher, “He started a group chat with a bunch of our friends and it started from there.”
Little did they know at the time that that last-minute decision would result in a championship, and possibly the beginning of a softball dynasty.
“We found out about the league two weeks before it started so we had to call random people and random sponsors,” added Alessandra.
Enough friends responded and Puerto Vallarta sponsored a team that would go on to make history as the first softball squad in ten years to win a championship during their inaugural season in Wethersfield.
“I had never won a championship in anything before so it’s nice to finally win one with these guys because I’ve played with them for a long time,” said Jared Christensen, who is attending UConn as a business major, “There was a little bit of a transition but it was just like old times and brought back some memories.”
At first it didn’t look good as the team stumbled out of the gate, losing five of their first six games including a 24-9 shellacking at the hands of the Chicken Cutlets in the first game of the season.
“We were getting blow out by everyone. I was debating why am I even doing this? I could be playing Twilight Baseball or I could be working out to play in college. I didn’t really know what I was doing but it all worked out,” stated Krueger.
After the slow start, the upstart group won nine of their final 15 regular season games and entered the playoffs brimming with confidence.
“We always knew we could be good when we had our best guys, but being young and having summer jobs some of us couldn’t show up to some games,” recalled Alessandra, “But when it came towards the end of the season all of our more consistent players started showing up every game and we knew that no one was going to beat us at the end of the day.”
Making the transitioning from baseball to softball and the lack of experience in the league was a challenge, but as the season aged the team’s youthful energy ended up being their best asset.
“I think their experience helped them but our athleticism helped us more, especially in the outfield because Eric [Shields] and Ryan Skelly could really run and catch balls for us and they couldn’t get to them. It was good that we had young guys,” stated Christensen.
“Our biggest advantage is that we are faster than everyone else. Numerous times Ryan and me turned singles into doubles and triples sometimes. We can beat out infield hits when a bunch of the older guys are easy outs with those hits. It definitely helped us produce more runs and get more guys on base,” added Shields, who had experience playing intermural softball at Western New England University.
Skelly was the only player on the team that was also part of the high school’s championship team, which defeated Windsor 16-4 to secure the Class L title in the spring. He turned 18 shortly before the softball season started, making him eligible.
By the time the championship series rolled around the team was clicking on all cylinders, winning their first four postseason games and advancing to the championship series where they would face a CNG team that they had recently defeated.
“Late in the regular season we crushed the team that we eventually beat in the championship game. I knew that we had a pretty good shot because when we all play well together we were a pretty good team,” stated Christensen.
Alessandro, Krueger, and team manager Jason Dignoti (another WHS alum) had pieced together a perfect lineup that was peaking at the right time.
“We just wanted to show everyone that we can go out here and play and we don’t have to practice like these other teams that practice three times a week. We showed up and took what we had learned these past 13 years and went out and played,” said Alessandra, who is also a youth football coach in the summer and will attend CCSU in the fall.
“Everything just started to click at the right time,” added Krueger, who also attends CCSU, “The whole season we didn’t know where everyone fit best or what position guys should play, but right before the playoffs everything started to click and we started to figure out where everyone fit best.”
The team split the first two games of their best-of-three championship series, leaving their fate in a do-or-die game three.
The series clincher did not disappoint and just like the regular season Puerto Vallarta fell behind early but rallied for a 20-19 extra-innings thriller to seal the championship.
It was another epic turnaround for a group of young athletes that couldn’t find their identity early but found ways to persevere through the struggles.
Alessandra, Krueger, Christensen, and Shields built the foundation and the rest helped construct a championship.
The supporting cast included Skelly, Mike Spence, Patrick ‘PMac’ Macgillvary, John DellaFera, Jared Hill, Brian Rodriguez, and Dylan DellaFera.
“It was all Wethersfield alum basically, but most of them beside us and Skelly hadn’t played baseball since they were younger or ever,” said Krueger, “For us it was a lot easier but for other guys on the team that hadn’t played since they were young it was a transition because they really hadn’t touched a bat since they were ten years old. It was just about them getting used to it because a lot of people didn’t know how to play.”
“We had a pretty good run in high school baseball and it’s nice to come back with some of the same guys and win it,” added Shields, an Engineering major at WNEU, “Even in little league I finished in the semifinals every year so to finally come back and finally win with the guys I’ve been playing with for years felt really good, especially because we were the new team and nobody thought we were going to win.”
Next season the team will move up the ranks as they look to repeat with the same core group of players returning and possibly some new talent joining their championship roster.
“We had players that hadn’t played ball their whole life. One kid was playing soccer his whole life and a bunch of football players that hadn’t played baseball since little league,” added Shields, “Now they’ve figured out their swing and I think we’ll be pretty good again next year.”
“I think we’ll move up to a higher league to play against better competition. It was good to get our name out there and the guys that we beat told us that we were the new boys on the block,” added Krueger.
Come next summer, the new boys on the block will be known as the new champions on the block.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin