Donnie McKillop's first season as manager of the New Britain Bees wouldn't appear to be much of a success from a results standpoint. As the last place team in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in 2021, the Bees finished 25-39 and six and a half games back from a playoff spot.
However, injuries and departures late in the season forced New Britain into an uncomfortable state, following a respectable start to the year.
“We lost one of the best players in the league in Luke Broadhurst before the All-Star break,” McKillop said. “We were really happy to see Bryson Cafaro go to the Cape League. Injuries and things that happened to our guys weren't exactly the best. Learning how to manage the length of the season and the waves of the players coming in and out of the team was a challenge, [but] it was a really great experience.”
Broadhurst took a ball to the face during a game in July while top reliever Cafaro joined the Bourne Braves later in the month, suddenly leaving the Bees with considerably less starpower.
Broadhurst's injury in particular impacted New Britain's batting lineup for the rest of the season as it could not replace the third baseman's bat. Broadhurst concluded with a .337 batting average in 26 games played.
“The top of our lineup had a rhythm, we kind of lost that when Broadhurst went down,” McKillop said. “We weren't really able to put that together in the back half of the season.”
While the Bees kept All-Star arms Jagger Duquette and Coln Kelly, losing Cafaro left a sizeable hole as the southpaw finished with a 4-0 record and 1.04 earned-run-average. McKillop called Cafaro their 'silver bullet' since he quickly emerged to be New Britain's most reliable man from the bullpen.
The Bees were right in the mix for a playoff spot midway through the year as they won seven of 10 during the heart of their schedule in June. Yet an eight-game losing streak at the end of July took the wind out their sales, before an early-August slump sealed New Britain's fate.
The Bees lost six of its final seven games with its last win coming Aug. 8 at home in a 6-0 victory against the Norwich Sea Unicorns.
“Even though we finished in last place, with a week to go we were a few games back [of a playoff spot] ,” McKillop said. “I'm proud of the boys, proud of the work ethic and proud of the product on the field.”
McKillop also rattled off a handful of names he thought showed great improvement during the season, which is just as important in a developmental league like the FCBL.
“I loved Kevin Seitter,” McKillop said. “In his first outing he had a hiccup, then settled in as our ace, for all intents and purposes.
“Alec Ritchm his baserunning and his ability to fit in at this level along with Ryan Bagdasarian, two division three players, to be able to fit in at this level was impressive,” McKillop said. “Jake Hyde, I think 90 percent of the year he led the league in RBIs. He worked on hitting off-speed pitches, he really performed and stepped up.”
Seitter's line finished at 3-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 11 starts. Ritch recorded 33 stolen bases and a .245 batting average, Bagdasarian boasted a .297 average and 18 RBIs and Hyde had 32 RBIs as well as a .296 batting average.
One last player McKillop singled out was UConn product Todd Petersen, who morphed into the heart and soul of this year's New Britain squad.
“He was great,” McKillop said. “He was the fan-favorite. He has some great potential. He loved playing and never asked for a day off.”
Petersen posted a .231 batting average, 25 RBIs and also competed in the FCBL Homerun Derby at New Britain Stadium.
Now with an entire offseason ahead for the Bees, putting it all together seems to be the goal for the 2022 season.
“I would say it was a great experience,: McKillop said. “A good step in the right direction for the team and the program. When we were rolling it was pretty good... We'll kind of continue with the process as we kind of embark on the offseason here.”
Ryan Ames can be reached at 860-801-5094 or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.