Thursday, June 30, 2016

Anthony Ireland dreaming big with skills academy, but he won't forget where he came from

Growing up in Waterbury, Anthony Ireland didn't have a lot.
Ireland made himself into a high school star under legendary Crosby head coach Nick Augelli, then prospered some more at Division I Loyola Marymount University in California. Yes, the same LMU known for Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. (If you don't know who they are, look them up. You won't be disappointed in what they brought to the basketball court.)
Ireland was one of the top players to come out of LMU, and it translated to a professional basketball career overseas in France, Greece and now Poland.
Ireland hasn't forgotten where he came from, and he also hasn't forgotten what he didn't have growing up.
There's where the AI3 Skills Academy comes into play.
Ireland just hosted his second annual academy last week at the Waterbury PAL.
"This all got started from a vision and a passion I grew up with," Ireland wrote in an email.. "As a kid growing up loving the game of basketball, there weren't many outlets or opportunities such as leagues, camps, or trainers in the city of Waterbury."
Turning pro gave Ireland a chance to give back.
"I wanted to provide the younger generations something I didn't have, so I teamed up with Joe Summa, Michael Sanders and Julio Vasquez to put this project together," Ireland wrote.
The camp had 74 boys and girls last year. This year, the number grew to 107, and Ireland is dreaming big.
"First, I want to continue to build a foundation and a following in Connecticut and the New England area to inspire generations of basketball student-athletes," Ireland said.
The dream doesn't stop there. Not by any stretch. 
In 2-3 years, Ireland wants to host an academy at LMU, and then he'd like to have them all over the nation, and the world.
"The long-term goal for our Academy is to eventually turn it into a K-12 preparatory boarding school," Ireland said.
That is dreaming big, but that's exactly what Ireland wants.
"The biggest message I try to relay to the kids is simply dream BIG," Ireland wrote. "Find your passion and run with it! Don't let anyone take your dream away with you."
A few of the people who helped Ireland out last week can attest to that philosophy. For one, there's Ryan Gomes, who turned an amazing career at Providence Career into a long one in the NBA. There's Walter Wright, who is playing for Division I University of Montana. There's Trevon Seymore, who plays for Division I Coppin State University. There's Mike Mallory, who has shone for Division II Southern Connecticut State University.
There's Damian Saunders, who played Division I for Duquesne University and spent some time in the NBA Developmental League.
The list goes on, and it includes Vasquez, Jordan Booker, Ta'Quan Zimmerman, Mike Sanders, Jonothan Rosado, Devonne Parker, Terrance Thompson, Juan Parilla and Blake Ireland. Anthony Ireland also had help from his father Bernie Ireland.
"There is so much love from all the players that have helped me out during this process," Ireland wrote. "I am so thankful for their commitment and their time. I have a very special and unique bond with each of the counselors and volunteers. Whether younger or older, we have connected on and off the court. It's beautiful how the game of basketball does that."
Ireland is just getting started.
"I'm super honored and thankful to be in the position to provide an outlet for our youth," Ireland. "I felt like it was my duty to give back to the community that made me who I am."
Ireland is doing just that, and so far, so good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Connor Fitzsimons signs with the Angels

A third local baseball player has signed a professional contract.
Former Bristol Eastern and Central Connecticut State University standout Connor Fitzsimons signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Fitzsimons joins Bristol Central product Matt Blandino and Wolcott's Manny Cruz as professional signees. Blandino and Cruz were both signed by the Cincinnati Reds, and each was assigned to the Arizona League Reds.
I first saw it reported by Mike Church, who is the founder of the Diamond Kings Baseball Academy. Church reported that Fitzsimons was one of the first players to walk through the door at the academy in 2003. Church posted this on Twitter:
"We are so very proud to see Connor sign with the Angels. We wish you the best as you start your pro career!"
Fitzsimons signed with the Angels on Sunday, then was assigned to the Arizona League Angels on Monday. He played in his first game Monday night against the Royals. Fitzsimons hit eighth in the order and went 0-for-4. Fitzsimons grounded out twice and flew out twice.
Fitzsimons has always been known for his defense, and he put his right arm on display when he caught a runner trying to steal second base in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Matt Blandino has solid professional pitching debut

Matt Blandino has made many starts in his pitching career, but none bigger than the one he made on Saturday.
Blandino, a member of the Arizona League Reds, took the mound for hist first professional start against the Dodgers. Blandino pitched three innings and struck out three. He gave up one run on three hits and faced 11 batters.
Blandino gave up his first hit in the first inning, a single, but used his first strikeout to get out of the frame. 
In the second inning, Blandino put the Dodgers down 1-2-3, including his second strikeout and a comebacker to the mound.
Blandino got a groundout to start the third inning, then gave up a single and double back-to-back. A second groundout brought home a run for the Dodgers, but Blandino escaped further trouble with his third and final strikeout.
NOTE: Blandino's first two career strikeouts were on called third strikes.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Busy summer of baseball tournaments ahead for Waterbury, Bristol

July and August are going to be busy months for baseball in the area.
Several events are coming to Waterbury, and then there's the senior (19U) American Legion Northeast Regional in Bristol.
The Mickey Mantle World Series (U16) is back in Waterbury for the first time in 24 years, and it will be played at the beautifully refurbished Municipal Stadium. Check out Joe Palladino's article on the Mickey Mantle World Series here. The series is looking for as many volunteers as it can get, according to Palladino.
The Mickey Mantle World Series will be held from July 27-31. Twelve teams, including one local, will compete. Opening ceremonies will be held at Municipal Stadium on July 27. The series will be played at Municipal, along with Holy Cross High School and Muzzy Field in Bristol. Municipal hosted the series from 1984-1992, according to another article from Palladino posted on the series website.
For more information, check out the World Series website.
The Roberto Clemente World Series (8U) is back in Waterbury from July 21-24. Earlier in the month, the Sandy Koufax (14U) state and regional tournaments will be in the Brass City. The state tourney goes from July 7-10, and the regional July 14-17.
In August, the American Legion Northeast Regional returns to Muzzy Field for a second straight year. It will be played from Aug. 3-7. Since Bristol is the host, Post 2 has an automatic bid to the regional. It will also include the state champions from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Massachusetts had two teams in the regional last year.
Visit Bristol Legion's Northeast Regional website when the tournament draws nearer for more information.

Twilight League holds fun, competitive first HR derby

It was fun and games for members of the Connecticut Twilight League on June 17 at Martin Park in East Hartford.
Sure, there was competition. It was, after all, the league's first of what they hope will be many home run derbys.
Travis Mistretta of the hometown East Hartford Angels bested Kez Douglas of the Brickhouse Indians 4-3 in the final. Mistretta and Douglas each homered seven times in the opening round to reach the final.
You can see photos and videos from the event on the Connecticut Twilight League website.
Several of the Bristol Knights had a big influence on the event. Scott Dickens, a league Vice President and Website Designer/Master, helped put the event together, along with President Chris Barsa, Vice President (Stats/Rules Keeper) Ken Cook, Rick Barrett, Mike D'Antonio and Don Fodasky. Knights manager Brian LaRochelle pitched and caught, as did Fodasky and many others. 
Barrett and D'Antonio (East Hartford Angels) helped get the event off the ground, and then competed in it. Also competing in the derby for the Knights were Rex Cone, Earl Oakes and Marco Ross.
Here's the home run tally from the first derby, via the CTL website:

Travis Mistretta (Angels) -- 11 total (7 first, 4 final) = champion
Kez Douglas (Indians) -- 10 total (7 first, 3 final) = runner-up
John Kushman (Angels) -- 6
Nate Narducci (Sam's Orioles) -- 6
Josue Lopez (Portland Panthers) -- 3
Rex Cone (Knights) -- 2
Rick Barrett (Knights) -- 2
Russ LaFleur (Elmer's Silver Bullets) -- 2
Earl Oakes (Knights) -- 1
Brian Kohn (Loco Perro Expos) -- 1

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Wolcott's Nate Filippone gets touchdown in state All-Star game

Wolcott senior Nate Filippone closed out his high school career with a touchdown in his final game.
Filippone scored on a three-yard run in the third quarter of Team Constitution's 33-9 win over Team Nutmeg on Saturday in the Super 100 All-Star Game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
Filippone was joined on the Constitution roster by Wolcott teammate Cole Phelps. Crosby's Alvin Lopes was also on the roster.
Filippone will play in college at Westfield State. Phelps signed on with CCSU.

Friday, June 24, 2016

TRI-STATE LEAGUE: Wolcott Scrappers heating up

The Wolcott Scrappers are pushing their way up the Connecticut Tri-State League baseball standings, thanks to a five-game winning streak.
Wolcott is 8-3 and sits 2.5 games back of the undefeated Watertown Blaze (10-0). The Scrappers have won five straight games since a 7-5 loss to Watertown on June 12 at the BAW Complex.
As usual, Wolcott has used strong pitching in its winning streak. The Scrappers have given up four runs over the past five games, and two of those contests ended in shutouts. Wolcott has received strong pitching efforts from Matt Finkenzeller (two wins), Justin Koutros, T.J. Williams and Zach Sehnal in the past five games. Koutros, Williams and Sehnal have one win each.
On offense, it's been a host of Scrappers doing damage. Eric Soucy and Ryan Andrade have led the way, but Matt Cyr has provided punch as well. There have also been contributions from Ryan Soucy, Israel Lugo, Elvis Martinez, Mike Perugini, Joel Acosta and Cleve Lorusso.
A quick look at the rest of the area Tri-State teams:
Bristol Greeners (5-5)
Bristol is coming off of a 6-2 loss to Wolcott, which dropped the team back to the .500 mark.
Brass City Brew (4-4)
Brass City got back to .500 with a 9-4 win over the Burlington Hunters on Tuesday.
East Mountain Cougars (1-9)
East Mountain snagged its first win of the season, 2-1 over Torrington last night at Crosby High School. Travis Markey pitched six innings for the win, then Anthony Moura came on for the save. Markey had a RBI double in the fourth inning to plate John DeLucia, who tripled. Jesus Garcia's infield single later in the inning brought home Markey.

AMERICAN LEGION: Waterbury off to perfect start in Zone 5; Bristol, Wolcott near top of Zone 1

The Waterbury senior American Legion team finds itself atop Zone 5 early this season. 
Post 1 owns a 7-0 record in the zone and is 11-0-1 overall entering this evening's game against RCP at 5:45 at Cromwell High School.
Oxford and Bethel are right behind Waterbury in the standings. Waterbury plays at Oxford tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., then goes to Brookfield High School Monday for a 5:45 p.m. game against Danbury.

Zone 1
The Bristol and Wolcott senior American Legion teams are hanging around the top of the Zone 1 standings .
Avon leads the zone at 8-2. Bristol is right behind Avon at 6-2 (6-4 overall), and Wolcott is 7-3.
Bristol has a busy weekend ahead of it. Post 2 hosts Southington tonight at 6:30 at Muzzy Field, then goes to Plainville tomorrow for a 1 p.m. game. Bristol then hosts Terryville in a doubleheader Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. at Muzzy.
Wolcott goes to Buckingham Field for a 5:45 game this evening against Zone 1 leader Avon. After a day off tomorrow, Wolcott goes up against Simsbury on Sunday in a doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. That doubleheader will be played at Wolcott High School.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bristol Knights on fire in the Connecticut Twilight League

Don't look now, but the Bristol Knights are on another hot streak in the Connecticut Twilight League.
The two-time defending champions started the season 0-2, but they have won 11 straight games since. The Knights are 11-2 and sit alone atop the CTL's Central Division. Bristol is currently the top seed in the overall playoff standings as well.
The 11-game streak started with a 5-2 win over Portland Panthers on May 20 at Bristol Eastern High School. After that, the wins piled up for the Knights.
What has been the key to success? Well, pitching.
Bristol has surrendered just 25 runs in 13 games, an average of just under two per contest. Look at the league pitching stats (updated as of June 20), and you will see plenty of Knights on the list. Marco Ross was at the top, followed by Chris McGarth and Tyler Favreau.
Others have contributed on the mound, including Kyle Lentini, Rex Cone, Nick Dzioba, Tommy Stagis, Rick Barrett and Doug Rives.
Bristol has scored 70 runs in those 13 games, giving the Knights a phenomenal run differential of 45.
At the plate, Brian LaRochelle and Earl Oakes were both hitting over .300 as of June 20.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Manny Cruz gets first pro RBI in wild win

The Arizona League Reds won a wild 16-15 game in 10 innings over the Indians on Tuesday night, and Manny Cruz got to be a part of it.
The former Wilby and Wolcott High standout led off for the second straight game. Cruz had two hits and drove in his first professional run. Cruz had three runs scored, a walk, and he struck out twice. He also made his first error in the field.
Cruz wasn't alone on the error front, given there were 11 between the teams.
The Reds and Indians played in very hot conditions. The gametime temperature was 107 degrees. The Reds gave up two runs to go down 15-13 in the 10th inning, but scored three times in their final at bat to claim victory.

Matt Blandino watch
The former Bristol Central standout has yet to pitch for the Reds. There have also only been two games played thus far. The Reds are off tonight, but play again Thursday at 10 p.m. against the Royals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Shifting gears with my blogs

I have decided to delete my "Sports with a View" and "Backyard Baseball Beat" blogs. I want to focus my energy on this blog and my other one, "Thoughts from the Heights." I may do something along the lines of "Sports with a View" as a feature piece on this blog, and you'll always get baseball news about players from Bristol, Waterbury and Wolcott on this blog.

Matt Blandino, Manny Cruz make it official with Cincinnati Reds

Young baseball players dream of one day being signed by a Major League Baseball team.
The Connecticut towns of Bristol and Wolcott each have a 2016 MLB signee to call their own.
Matt Blandino, chosen in the 19th round with the 558th pick, had his signing put out by the Reds on Monday on's transactions list. So did Manny Cruz, who was chosen in the 23rd round with the 678th pick. Blandino played his high school ball at Bristol Central. Cruz started at Wilby in Waterbury, then ended at Wolcott High School.
Both locals were assigned to the Arizona League Reds, rookie ball. The signing amount for both players was not available, according to the website Blandino was given the No. 36 while Cruz will wear No. 4.
The Arizona Reds played their first game of the shortened season last night, and Cruz got a chance to show what he could do. Cruz batted lead off for the Reds in the game. He picked up his first professional hit and went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. He drew a walk and was also caught stealing.
Cruz's first professional bat was a leadoff walk. He was erased in the same inning on a pickoff, pitcher to first base to shortstop. Cruz was called out on strikes in his second at bat, then hit into a force out in his third at bat.
In the top of the sixth inning, Cruz got his first hit as a pro on a ground ball to left field. Cruz was called out on strikes in his final at bat of the game in the top of the eighth inning. 
Blandino did not pitch in his first rookie league game. The Reds did use five pitchers in the first game, so Blandino is likely to see his first professional action sooner than later.
Blandino and Cruz join Sal Romano as area players to sign with the Reds. Romano, from Southington, is pitching at 'AA' in the Southern League for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
To keep up with Blandino and Cruz, go to the Arizona League Reds website.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Anthony Ireland ready for second Waterbury skills camp

This week, the second annual AI3 Basketball Skills Academy takes at the Waterbury P.A.L.
The camp, for ages 10-14, runs from June 22-24 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The instructor for the camp is none other than former Crosby and Loyola Marymount great Anthony Ireland. Ireland is now a professional basketball player for Trefl Sopot in Poland.
Ireland's slogan is "Do what you love, love what you do," and he is giving back to the city that helped make him who he is.
The cost is $100, but program proceeds benefit the Waterbury Basketball Academy, and you get three days of basketball training with someone who knows his craft.
Why does Ireland do this? Here's a good quote from an article written by Andy Hui for LMU Lions Roar.
"It's been a dream of mine to organize a basketball camp in my hometown. The idea came to fruition while I was playing professionally in France in my first year after LMU. Last year, about a third of our campers were able to receive some form of financial aid to help offset the costs to attend. This year, I am looking for help in increasing that number so that more kids can participate in a worthwhile project that is supported by many in the Waterbury community."
Here's a link to the full article from Hui.
Hui referred to Ireland as one of LMU's truly great ambassadors. That's pretty accurate, and it would be accurate to say that Ireland is a truly great ambassador for the city of Waterbury as well.
For more information on the academy, contact Dazure Prado at You can also call (203) 754-9622.

A look at who is gone and who is back for Wolcott baseball in 2017

This is the fourth and final post in a series on the 2016 Class M state champion Wolcott baseball team.

Wolcott baseball won its first state championship in 2016, and it lost several key seniors to graduation.
Gone are Isaiah Negretti, Jacob Ramos, Nate Murphy, Brad Grasso, Chris Hull, Matt Warren, Jacob Gabriel, Eric Gillotti and Phil Olmstead. Negretti and Warren are huge losses, and several other seniors offered major contributions during the season.
Who's coming back for the Eagles as they try to get back to the state championship game?
Nick Longo will be among the players returning for Wolcott baseball in 2017.
The center of the infield will be solid with Nick Longo at shortstop, Ray Bartoli at second base and Jeff Nicol at catcher.
Longo played junior varsity as a freshman, and varsity head coach Tary Scott knew he would be moving up to varsity in 2016. Longo had some big hits in his first varsity season.
"He's a very confident kid as a sophomore," Scott said.
Bartoli was the hero of the Class M state championship against Northwestern Regional with his game-winning, two-run home run. Bartoli is strong with the bat and will form a nice double play combo with Longo.
Class M state championship game hero Ray Bartoli will be back for his senior season.

Nicol started at catcher as a freshman.
"He played like a sophomore or junior," Scott said.
Nicol had just three passed balls all season, and two of them came early on.
Jeff Nicol was solid as a freshman at catcher, and he will be back.
"I credit the seniors because they made him feel like a part of the team," Scott said.
Nicol had a big home run in the Class M second round win over Ellington.
Jack Drewry also saw playing time as a freshman, and his role is sure to increase in 2017. Drewry saw some time on the mound, and he will join Bobby White in that capacity. White was the No. 2 pitcher behind the ace Negretti.
Bobby White was Wolcott's No. 2 pitcher behind ace Isaiah Negretti.
Steve Urbanski returns to give Wolcott a great leadoff hitter who is adept at getting on base. Urbanski is the engine that makes the Eagles go.
Steve Urbanski will return in 2017 to give Wolcott a steady bat at the top of the lineup.

Nick Trager saw time as a sophomore and is sure to see his role increase.
Also slated to return for Wolcott is Zach Maisto.
The Eagles will have some big shoes to fill, but the 2016 team was just that, a team.
"There were no egos, no superstars," Scott said. "This year's team was about the team."
Several of those pieces will be back next season for Wolcott, which is a good way to start.

Here's a list of the returnees by 2017 grade:
SENIORS -- Steve Urbanski, Zach Maisto, Bobby White, Ray Bartoli
JUNIORS -- Nick Trager, Nick Longo
SOPHOMORES -- Jack Drewry, Jeff Nicol  

Two turning points on the way to Wolcott's first state baseball title

This is the third in a series of posts on the 2016 Class M state champion Wolcott baseball team.

There were two key moments in the Wolcott baseball 2016 state championship season.
One of them came midway through the regular season, and the other happened in the NVL Tournament. Each served as a crossroads of sorts for the Eagles, and they got back on track both times.
Wolcott head coach Tary Scott knew he had a talented bunch entering the season. After 10 games, however, the Eagles sat at a pedestrian 5-5.
"Our defense was a little shaky," Scott said.
Scott told his team that they still had time to make up for those errors at the plate. Wolcott could hit, but its fielding needed work. Scott saw the potential, and he wanted the team to see it as well.
"I still believe we got the best team in the state," Scott said he told the team. "We just got to come together."
That meant getting the right people in the right place.
Well, something obviously worked for Wolcott in the second half of the regular season. The Eagles went 9-1, with the only loss was 6-5 at St. Paul on May 10. Wolcott closed the regular season with five straight wins to finish 14-6.
Scott said some people beat up on the NVL, but he thinks it only benefited his team.
"This year, [the NVL] was so strong," Scott said. "That got us ready for the state tournament."
Up first was the NVL Tournament.The Eagles entered the NVL Tournament as a dangerous No. 6 seed and gutted out a 4-3 road victory over No. 3 St. Paul in the quarterfinal round.
In the semifinals, Wolcott claimed a 5-1 lead over Holy Cross. The Crusaders came back to tie at 5-5, but the Eagles surged ahead 8-5 in the top of the seventh inning. Three outs away from a trip back to the NVL final, Wolcott imploded and Holy Cross recorded an improbable 9-8 victory.
Wolcott was stunned, it was hurt, but it was also motivated.
"That was the turnaround," Scott said. "They weren't cocky, but they thought they were better than everyone and could just show up and win. To me, that [loss] was a blessing."
The lost refocused Wolcott, and the Eagles showed the toughness and resolve it takes to be successful.
"They never quit," Scott said. "Those guys could have quit when they got beat by Holy Cross in the NVL Tournament."
The team also could have hung it up when it started 5-5. Both times, Wolcott responded to the challenge with hard work. The end result was the program's first state title.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Wolcott baseball coaching staff works together as one

This is the second in a series of posts on the 2016 Class M state champion Wolcott baseball team. Stay tuned for more posts in the coming days.

The turning point in Tary Scott's baseball life came in his sophomore year of high school.
Scott was a budding player on the diamond at David Crockett High School in Jonesborough, Tenn., but he didn't have a good attitude.
"You can hit the sh-- out of the ball, but no one will want you because of your attitude," Scott said Miller told him.
Scott said he started listening from that point on, and it has had an effect on him since.
Fast forward to Wolcott High School baseball's 2016 Class M state championship season. Scott was the team's head coach, but he stayed in the dugout or just outside of it. Dom Angiolillo coached third base, Tim Jackson -- better known as "The Mayor" -- does the job at first base. There's also Ed Belval and Charlie Guerrera.
"We all get along good, and the kids see that," Scott said. "We're all family here."
Jackson, a first-year volunteer coach, calls the pitches, and he throws batting practice, a lot of it. Scott said Jackson will throw 40-50 balls to each player. Jackson is also the speech giver on the team.
"When I would see the kids and they came off the bus ready to go, I said to myself 'Mr. 
Jackson must have given a good speech,'" Scott said.
Scott respects all of his coaches, and he values their opinions.
"These guys know baseball, so why would we butt heads?" Scott said.
Scott said he doesn't dictate. Instead, he let his coaches do what they have to do. 
"We were all on the same page," Scott said.
The coaching staff is a team, and that attitude trickled down to the players on the 2016 Wolcott squad. Players didn't talk back to their coaches. They just went out and did their jobs.
That's another part of what Scott and his coaches instilled in this team, and past teams. You have to earn what you get.
"My high school coach was like a father to me," Scott said. "He told me to keep plugging away."
Scott goes for that same approach with his players, and it worked to the tune of a state title this season.
"They knew what it would take," Scott said. "They knew that nothing is given to you in life."
Like their coach, the players listened, and the result was the most successful season in Wolcott baseball history.

Wolcott's state championship baseball team was a team through and through

This is the first in a series of posts about the Class M state champion Wolcott baseball team. Stay tuned for more over the coming days.

The euphoria is only starting to wear off now for Wolcott baseball head coach Tary Scott.
A week ago today, the Eagles captured the program's first-ever state championship, 3-2 in the Class M final over Northwestern Regional on a Ray Bartoli two-run home run.
"It was an amazing run we had," Scott said in a phone interview this morning.
Wolcott baseball came together as a team, and the result was a Class M state championship, the first in program history.
Scott always believed this Wolcott team was special. The feeling started in the preseason.
"We got a state championship team here," Scott said he told his players. "If we get that one bad inning out of the way, we'll be alright."
Mental toughness was a big key to the team's success. 
Only with that toughness can you rebound from a 5-5 start to the season. Only with that toughness can you come back ready to play after blowing a NVL Tournament semifinal game. Only with that toughness can you overcome an 11-4 deficit in the state tournament.
And only with that toughness can you pick yourself up off the ground one more time in the state final, down 2-1 with just three outs remaining in your season, and win a championship.
"We had great players in the past, but they didn't know how to finish," Scott said. "This team knew how to finish."
Bartoli will be remembered forever for his epic blast, but this was a team effort and others need to be mentioned up there with him. There was Steve Urbanski, who went 4-for-4 and started the bottom of the seventh inning with a base hit.
"I knew he was locked in the whole game," Scott said.
Then there was senior pitcher Ike Negretti, who always wanted the ball. Scott said he repeatedly asked his right-hander throughout the tournament if his arm was OK.
"Nah, it'll be alright," Scott said Negretti told him at one point during the postseason.
Negretti was the winning pitcher in all five games, including four complete games, in the state tournament. In the final against Northwestern, Scott could tell Negretti was tired, but the pitcher -- and the thinker -- in him kept working.
"He was mixing his pitches, and Mr. Jackson (assistant coach Tim Jackson) called a good game for him," Scott said.
Scott played in high school, he played in college, and he was drafted into the Boston Red Sox organization. When asked for his reaction to Negretti's performance, Scott said this:

"I've never seen it. I played high school, played college, played in the pros. I've never seen a guy that wants the ball every single day."

This team was indeed a team, and that attitude started early. The seniors made sure freshman catcher Jeff Nicol was welcomed early on. Seniors Negretti, Matt Warren and Chris Hull - who was hurt in the second game of the season -- led by quiet example. Senior Eric Gillotti wasn't going to play, but he came back.
"He was a big key for us," Scott said.
The junior Urbanski started things in the lineup, and Warren was often on base right after him in the No. 2 slot. The junior Bartoli was third, then there was senior Jacob Gabriel in the No. 4 spot.
Gabriel kept coming to practice despite not playing a lot. Scott needed a No. 4 hitter, so in went Gabriel.
"He got his shot, and he didn't come out," Scott said.
The change for Gabriel from junior to senior year -- he grew up, he told his coach.
Wolcott as a team grew up. The Eagles came together as a family and developed the mental toughness necessary to close out tight games, and to rally when down.
Wolcott's biggest hurdle came in the second round at home against Ellington. The Purple Knights blitzed the Eagles for seven runs to take an 11-4 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning.
"We're gonna come back, we're gonna come back," Scott said he told his team. "The whole game to that point, we kept hitting the ball hard. We just had to stop them from scoring.
Wolcott matched Ellington's seven runs with a seven spot of its own in the fifth, then walked off in the seventh for an inprobable 13-12 victory.
When Wolcott stepped off the bus for the quarterfinal at Waterford, Scott knew the team was ready.
"They were so relaxed getting off the bus," Scott said.
The Eagles won that day, 5-2, then hammered Haddam-Killingworth 10-1 in the semifinal to set up the first final in program history. 
Wolcott won the state title, and in the process the Eagles proved their coach wrong. It's something he tells each team to do every year, and this team did it. They also rubbed it in on him on the bus ride home, he said with a laugh. Scott didn't mind at all.
When the Eagles returned to Wolcott High School late last Friday night, they were greeted by 60-70 people. Scott said being drafted was the biggest thrill in his life, but that has been pushed aside.
"This is the biggest thrill of my life," Scott said of winning the state title.
Scott gives all the credit to his players and his coaches, who worked hard to bring the glory home to Boundline Road.
Wolcott baseball gave the town the thrill of a lifetime, and the players earned something that will be there's forever.
"They got that ring at the end, and nobody can take that away from them," Scott said.

PLAYERS: Senior Ike Negretti, senior Jacob Ramos, junior Steve Urbanski, senior Nate Murphy, junior Zach Maisto, freshman Jack Drewry, senior Brad Grasso, junior Bobby White, senior Chris Hull, senior Matt Warren, junior Ray Bartoli, sophomore Nick Trager, freshman Jeff Nichol, senior Jacob Gabriel, senior Eric Gillotti, sophomore Nick Longo, senior Phil Olmstead
COACHES: Tary Scott, Dom Angiolillo, Tim Jackson ("The Mayor"), Ed Belval, Charlie Guerrera

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

QUICK BITES: St. Paul to be honored tonight at Blues game; Wolcott treated to breakfast for champions

The Class S state champion St. Paul baseball team will be honored by the Bristol Blues before tonight's 7 o'clock game against the Martha's Vineyard Sharks at Muzzy Field.
A post on St. Paul baseball's Twitter account says the ceremony will begin at 6:45 p.m. 
The members of the St. Paul baseball team are: senior co-captain Mike Dombrowski, senior Wayne Sharp, senior Connor Crean, sophomore Nick Morrell, junior Tom Houle, senior Jarod Deegan, junior Wes Lahey, senior Ben Mazzone, junior Zach Parent, junior Andrew Owsianko, senior co-captain Jackson Hines, freshman Ben Lahey, freshman Dylan Gagnon, senior Joe Ricciuti, senior Chadd Richardson, freshman Chris Mills, junior Jack Bator and sophomore Ryan Greene. The coaches are Vic Rinaldi, Jarrett Stawarz and Dave Hansen.
The Blues have several promotions going on tonight. It's Bristol Central High School Night, and there's a season ticket holders and host family party. Also, it's Hartford Yard Goats Unused Tickets Night. 

A breakfast for champions
The Class M state champion Wolcott baseball team had breakfast at LaFortuna Family Restaurant on Wednesday morning.
LaFortuna Family Restaurant, located on Route 69, had some special guest in for breakfast this morning.
The Class M state champion Wolcott baseball team gathered and had a meal at the establishment, according to photos posted on the Wolcott athletics Twitter account.   
The members of the Wolcott baseball team are: senior Ike Negretti, senior Jacob Ramos, junior Steve Urbanski, senior Nate Murphy, junior Zach Maisto, freshman Jack Drewry, senior Brad Grasso, junior Bobby White, senior Chris Hull, senior Matt Warren, junior Ray Bartoli, sophomore Nick Trager, freshman Jeff Nichol, senior Jacob Gabriel, senior Eric Gillotti, sophomore Nick Longo and senior Phil Olmstead. The head coach is Tary Scott, and his assistants are Dom Angiolillo, Tim Jackson, Ed Belval and Charlie Guerrera (thank you to AD Lisa Riggi for the names!).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

St. Paul seniors realize their potential, get their state championship

St. Paul senior pitcher Connor Crean saw state championship potential in his class early on.
"When we all showed up freshman year for tryouts, we knew, one year, we were going to get it," Crean said following Sunday's Class S state final against Morgan at Palmer Field in Middletown.
Crean had just pitched the Falcons to a 4-2 victory over the Huskies to win the program's first state championship since 1972. Players in this class have seen success at other levels, such as the Bristol junior and senior league squads that played under the name Edgewood. Putting it together at the high school level is different.
In 2013, St. Paul earned the No. 4 seed in Class S, along with a first round bye. The Falcons went down 1-0 to No. 13 East Hampton in the first round. 
St. Paul entered Class S as the No. 19 seed in 2014 and knocked off No. 14 Northwest Catholic before falling to eventual state champion Thomaston in the second round.
In 2015, St. Paul came into Class S as the No. 5 seed. The Falcons got past No. 28 East Hampton in the first round and No. 12 Holy Cross in the second round, only to see their run end against state runner-up Morgan in the quarterfinals.
There was one season left for St. Paul seniors Crean, Mike Dombrowski, Wayne Sharp, Jarod Deegan, Ben Mazzone, Jackson Hines, Joe Ricciuti and Chadd Richardson. 
The Falcons were being led by a new head coach, Vic Rinaldi, who had previously coached at Lewis Mills. Pat Holden moved on to Central Connecticut State University after leading the Falcons during the first three years of the Class of 2016.
It was a time of change, but the senior class was ready to play.
"We were all together and we were ready to go," Crean said. 
St. Paul got off to a 11-1 start, but lost half of its final eight games to finish 15-5. The Falcons exited the NVL Tournament after their first game, a 4-3 home loss to Wolcott.
St. Paul earned the No. 4 seed in Class S and opened with a 15-6 pounding of No. 29 Coginchaug. Crean shut down No. 13 Notre Dame-Fairfield in a 4-0 win in the second round. 
Next up was the quarterfinal, a round St. Paul hadn't been out of since 1999. Junior Wes Lahey gutted his way through a complete game in a 6-5 win over No. 12 Portland.
In the semifinals, the Falcons faced upstart No. 24 Old Lyme, who had just upset No. 1 Oxford in the previous round. Crean was given the ball, but had trouble with his control. Happily for St. Paul, the Falcons erupted for five runs, and it was all the team needed to claim a 5-2 victory. Hines came on in relief of Crean and closed out Old Lyme, which put St. Paul in the state final for the first time since 1976.
St. Paul's senior class had reached the final. One hurdle remained, and it was the Morgan program that had taken down the Falcons in the quarterfinal round the year before.
Crean struggled with his control again in the final, but St. Paul found itself in a 2-2 tie in the top of the seventh inning. 
It was no surprise that the championship-winning rally started with seniors.
The senior co-captain Hines singled to left to begin the inning. Mazzone was called on to bunt, but his sacrifice got past the mound and turned into a base hit. A swinging bunt from junior Andrew Owsianko moved Hines and Mazzone to second and third. Morgan intentionally walked Richardson, which brought up the senior co-captain Dombrowski.
"I've been in this situation before," Dombrowski said. "I knew I just had to be patient, get that pitch. I knew I had a job to do. I needed something I could drive to the outfield because we needed a sac fly."
Dombrowski was up with the bases loaded in the third inning of the semifinal following another intentional walk to Richardson. Dombrowski drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, which brought home the first run in what was a five-run outburst.
In the final, Dombrowski did his job, got the ball to the outfield, and Hines scored on the sac fly. Mazzone came around to score on an error on the same play, and St. Paul had a 4-2 lead.
The Falcons had gone through tough losses, but this game would not be one of them. After a leadoff walk, Crean -- who saw the potential for greatness in his class when they entered the school on Maltby Street as freshmen -- struck out the side and St. Paul celebrated.
"Nothing better," Crean said when asked how it felt to end his high school career with a state championship.
Rinaldi was only around the senior class for a year, but he became close to them.
"They're a great bunch of seniors," Rinaldi said. "I'll never forget them, and they'll never forget today."
St. Paul's Class of 2016 baseball players fulfilled their potential, and they brought the program its first state championship in 44 years. That's quite the legacy to leave behind.

St. Paul assistant coach Jarrett Stawarz gets the monkey off his back

For the past 17 years, St. Paul assistant coach Jarrett Stawarz has been carrying around extra weight.
The extra weight was a game that got away. Stawarz was a star pitcher for the Falcons in 1999, and the team was a game away from the Class S state final. Standing in the way was Cromwell, but St. Paul handed Stawarz a 5-1 lead in the semifinal matchup.
As for what happened next, Stawarz stated it matter-of-fact: "I blew it."
On Sunday afternoon at around 2:30, Stawarz was one of the happiest people in Middletown's Palmer Field. St. Paul had not only reached its first state final since 1976, it beat Morgan 4-2 and captured the program's first championship since 1972.
"This was 17 years in the making," Stawarz said.
St. Paul assistant coach talks to pitcher Connor Crean as catcher Chadd Richardson looks on
during Sunday's Class S state final at Palmer Field in Middletown.
You could sense the relief in the 35-year-old, who mentors the Falcon pitchers. This is someone who pitched at the Division I level for the University of Hartford for four years (2000-02, 2004), then threw in independent professional leagues from 2005-2008. 
Stawarz had a chance to pursue a dream, yet there was a memory he couldn't escape.
This season was a special one for St. Paul, and it was very special for Stawarz. 
"I've been telling those guys since the tournament started that there was a monkey on my back," Stawarz said.
The Falcons entered the state tournament as the No. 4 seed and reached the semifinals. St. Paul beat No. 24 Old Lyme 5-2 at Beehive Stadium in New Britain to clinch a berth in the final. 
"It meant a lot to me to get through the semis," Stawarz said.
The Falcons took it one further and beat Morgan. St. Paul's players, coaches and fans erupted in celebration when senior Connor Crean struck out the final batter. Crean and the Falcons were well aware of the extra weight that Stawarz had been carrying.
"It means everything to me, because our assistant coach, they lost in the semis in 1999, and that was our main reason to get that win, get that state title," Crean said.
Head coach Vic Rinaldi also mentioned Stawarz in his postgame interview. It's been a crazy season for St. Paul, but all worth it.
"We've had our pretty games, we've had our ugly games, but a win is a win," Stawarz said.
And now Stawarz has gotten the monkey off his back.

Monday, June 13, 2016

QUICK BITES: Local connections with Amity baseball; NVL claims four titles on the diamond

The Amity Regional baseball program just made history on Saturday afternoon by becoming the first in the state to win four straight championships.
The Spartans walked off against Fairfield Warde on a walk for a 4-3 victory.
There is a strong local connection via Amity's coaching staff. Head coach Sal Coppola just finished up his 23rd year of teaching social studies at Wolcott High School. Ironically, the Eagles just won their first state title on Friday night.
"Amity coach Sal Coppola is a teacher at Wolcott High," tweeted Ray Curren, who does work for the Southern Connecticut Conference. "Rubbing off on everyone, apparently, good stuff."
Curren made the comment when he shared Ray Bartoli's championship-winning home run.
Coppola has been the top man at Amity for those same 23 years.
"Congrats to Mr. Coppola and Amity!" read a Twitter post from the Wolcott athletics account.
Amity assistant coach Brian LaRochelle is no stranger to the area, and no stranger to winning championships. LaRochelle is a manager/player on the two-time defending Connecticut Twilight League champion Bristol Knights. LaRochelle got some congratulations via the league's Twitter account following Amity's victory.
"Congrats again to Amity Asst. Coach Brian LaRochelle (who we know a little). That guy only wins."
LaRochelle is a counselor at Amity Regional High School.

Four state champions from the NVL
The Naugatuck Valley League sure knows how to compete on the baseball and softball diamonds.
The league collected four state championships over the weekend. Here's who did it:
  • Wolcott baseball -- The program's first-ever title was clinched on Ray Bartoli's walk-off, two-run home run in the Class M final against Northwestern Regional on Friday night.
  • Holy Cross softball -- The Crusaders captured their second straight Class S state championship on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Notre Dame-Fairfield. Meg Dwyer is two years into her head coaching career with Holy Cross, and she has two state titles. Amazing.
  • St. Paul baseball -- The Falcons beat Morgan 4-2 on Sunday afternoon for their first championship since 1972. St. Paul hadn't even been in the final since 1976. Vic Rinaldi captured the title in his first season as head coach of the Falcons.
  • Seymour softball -- One of the best programs in the state claimed its 10th championship. According to a post on the team's Twitter account, the Wildcats have won nine of those 10 via shutout and have outscored opponents 32-2 in the process. The ninth shutout came in Saturday's Class M final against Rocky Hill by a score of 1-0. 

St. Paul senior Connor Crean able to dig deep, escape trouble on the mound

St. Paul senior pitcher Connor Crean found himself in big trouble in the semifinal and the final,
yet he always seemed to be able to get out of it.
St. Paul senior pitcher Connor Crean may not have had the control he or his coaches wanted in his semifinal and final starts in the Class S state tournament.
What Crean did have, however, was the stuff and frankly, the guts, to get out of jam after jam on the road to a state championship.
"That's Connor's story all year," Falcons head coach Vic Rinaldi said after Sunday's 4-2 state championship win over Morgan. "He was the stuff where he can work in and out of trouble."
Crean can hit 91-92 on the radar gun with his fastball. When it's accurate, it's very hard for a high school hitter to catch up to, especially in a small-school class where batters may not see that kind of speed. The problem was control, and Crean knew it. He walked seven in less than five innings in the semifinal, then walked eight in a complete-game effort on Sunday.
"Those eight walks were fricking killing me," Crean said, able to smile after striking out the last three batters he faced to clinch the championship. He finished with 13 punch-outs.
Pitching coach Jarrett Stawarz went out to talk to Crean at one point, as did Rinaldi. They knew that it was in Crean's hands, and there wasn't much to say.
"He's pretty much numb from the neck up," Rinaldi said, adding that the staff is used to that.
It's just how Crean is on the mound. The same thing that can get him in trouble can get him out of it.
Head coach Vic Rinaldi asked senior pitcher Connor Crean to pick up his sophomore second baseman after a two-base throwing error to lead off the fifth inning. Crean struck out two batters, then Morrell cleanly fielded a grounder and threw
to first for the final out of the inning, stranding two Morgan runners on the bases.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the first Morgan batter reached on a throwing error by sophomore second baseman Nick Morrell. Rinaldi held a conference at the mound and told his pitcher he had to pick up the young second baseman. Crean struck out the next two hitters, then gave up a walk. Morrell then had his back, however, throwing to first on a grounder for the final out of a crucial inning.
"I just knew the team had my back, no matter what," Crean said.
"I think that was important, keeping it 2-2 until the we get to that seventh inning with the top of our order, to limit the momentum on their side," Rinaldi said. "[Crean] did a good job of that."
Crean worked around a one-out infield single in the sixth with the game still tied, then rebounded after a leadoff walk in the seventh and struck out the side.
As for closing out his final season with a state championship, Crean had this to say:
"Nothing better."
Even in big jams -- often of his own creation -- Crean was the best at escaping danger. 

Senior co-captain Mike Dombrowski did his job, came through when St. Paul needed him most

Senior co-captain Mike Dombrowski did his job and got the ball to the outfield. His sacrifice fly in the seventh inning
brought home the game-winning run for the Falcons.
St. Paul senior captain Mike Dombrowski had been in big situations before the top of the seventh inning of Sunday afternoon's Class S state final against Morgan.
Still, none was bigger than the one in front of him at a windy, sun-drenched Palmer Field in Middletown. There was one out, and the bases were full of his Falcon teammates. Fellow senior captain Jackson Hines was on third base, senior Ben Mazzone occupied second, and junior Andrew Oswianko led off first. 
Dombrowski knew what the wrong kind of contact could mean.
"It's tough when you only have one out there, you don't want to hit something on the ground and get a double play," Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski stayed patient, and looked for something he could get into the air. He did hit the ball to the outfield, and his sacrifice fly led to the eventual game-winning run.
"Just hitting it off the bat, I was hoping it was far enough to get Jack in, and it was," Dombrowski said.
Hines scored easily, and a throw back to third base to catch Mazzone went wild, allowing Mazzone to score for a 4-2 lead.
Fellow senior Connor Crean made the lead hold up in the bottom of the seventh, and he, Dombrowski, and the rest of the Falcons were able to celebrate a long-awaited state championship.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

St. Paul baseball ends its 44-year state championship drought

St. Paul baseball's postgame huddle included a special guest Sunday -- the Class S state championship plaque.
Forty-four years is a long time to wait for anything.
That's how long it's been since the St. Paul baseball program celebrated a state championship. The year was 1972, and the Falcons were wrapping up their second straight title. 
St. Paul had to wait another 44 years, but state title No. 3 found its place in the Maltby Street school after a 4-2 victory over Morgan in Sunday afternoon's Class S championship final at Palmer Field in Middletown.
Senior co-captain Mike Dombrowski drove home the winning run in the top of the seventh inning.
Senior co-captain Mike Dombrowski drove in senior co-captain Jackson Hines with a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie. Senior Ben Mazzone scored on a throwing error on the same play, then senior ace pitcher Connor Crean sealed the victory.
Crean, a hard-throwing right-hander, had trouble finding the plate again, much like he did in the semifinals. Just like the semifinals, however, Crean worked his way out of trouble time and again. Crean wound up with eight walks, but he also struck out 13, including the last three batters in the game after his final walk. The Falcons also made four errors, but the defense and Crean combined to help each other out when it mattered most.
Senior Connor Crean struck out 13, including the final three batters he faced.
"I just knew the team had my back, no matter what," Crean said.
St. Paul struck for two runs in the top of the first inning, all with two outs. Junior Andrew Owsianko reached on an infield single, then senior Chadd Richardson delivered a wind-aided RBI double for a 1-0 lead. Dombrowski walked, then St. Paul executed a double steal. An infield single by junior Zach Parent put the Falcons ahead 2-0.
Morgan turned a leadoff double and an error into a run on a RBI groundout in the bottom of the first. The Huskies had runners on base in every inning, but were only able to push one more run across. That run came in the third inning on a passed ball.
St. Paul left two on in the fourth and one more in the sixth, and the game went to the seventh tied 2-2.
Hines led off the seventh with a single. He later scored what turned out to be the winning run.
Mazzone's sacrifice attempt turned into a bunt base hit. He later scored an insurance run to make the score 4-2.

The seniors led the Falcons to the first state final since 1976, and they were the catalyst for the championship-winning rally. Hines led off and dropped a single into left field. Mazzone looked to put down a sacrifice bunt, but it wound up going past the pitcher for a base hit. A swinging bunt from the junior Owsianko moved the runners up to second and third with one out, then Morgan elected to intentionally walk Richardson.
That brought up the senior Dombrowski, who was able to loft a fly ball into the left center field gap. Hines scored easily, and when a throw to third base went astray, Mazzone brought home an insurance run.
The Morgan seventh began with a walk, but Crean settled in and struck out the side. When the final strike was recorded, Crean jumped into the arms of his catcher Richardson, and the battery were mobbed by their teammates in a pile-up in front of home plate.
It was a forty-four year wait, but this group of St. Paul baseball players made it worth it. Seniors Dombrowski, Wayne Sharp, Crean, Jarod Deegan, Mazzone, Hines, Joe Ricciuti and Richardson finished their Falcon careers with the ultimate prize.

For photos and videos from the game, go to my Facebook page.

Look for much more on the St. Paul state championship on this blog in the coming days.