SOUTH WINDSOR - Four years ago, the Southington American Legion baseball team won just five games.
Last season, the program won its first state championship since 1993, and this weekend, its going for its second consecutive state title as it begins a best-of-three series against Stamford at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Meriden’s Ceppa Field.
“We’re building something here,” Southington head coach Marc Verderame said. “We’ve come a long way. We put the hard work in. It starts everywhere. It starts with the travel program to the high school program that [Southington baseball head coach] Charlie Lembo runs right to us. It flows right through.”
The veteran presence of Justin Verrilli - who has been with the team for three seasons and earned a victory in relief over Waterford in Tuesday night’s South Windsor Super Regional contest - and the resilience of Ethan McDonough - who started the season 0-for-22 before rebounding and had two of the team’s biggest hits in Tuesday’s win - are both prime examples Verderame pointed toward to illustrate the team’s growth.
“We set the stage and these players deliver. It’s all credit to the players,” Verderame said. “We had one mission. We knew we were gonna win a few games early, but this was our one goal. We’re going to the state championship, and we’re going to regionals.”
Southington worked its way into the state title series boosted by a comeback victory over Bristol on Sunday. Trailing 2-0 with one out in the seventh inning, Southington (23-7) stormed back for a 5-2 victory and still has not lost, boasting a 6-0 mark in the state tournament.
“That’s this team. We fight. We battle,” Verderame said of the rally against Bristol. “We’re never out of it. That’s our mantra and I’m extremely proud of the guys.”
The state tournament series will conclude either after game two that starts at 1 p.m. Saturday or after an if-necessary game three to follow. After that, Southington will play in the Northeast Regional, Aug. 7-11 at Fitton Field in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
That comes after a 0-2 start to the season low-lighted by a 13-3 loss to Simsbury that may have begun to make some of the lack of respect directed at Southington seem a bit warranted.
“It was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had [winning the state championship],” Verrilli said. “And then [this] season seeing we were kind of being disrespected. We kind of took that to heart. We played even better and we showed it on the field.”
Verderame added: “We took a few losses early and got mercied, but once we had our eyes on the prize and we got here, this team really hunkered down, and [showed] the hearts of champions. A lot of the guys from last season are on this team and we’re hungry for one more.”
If Verderame’s club wins another state title, it will do so behind a group that isn’t star-studded, he says, and one that comes from a variety of places.
“Not every guy played for the high school team. They played at other schools and we’ve got a lot of college kids who know this is their last attempt at it,” Verderame said. “Kids will be going off to work or won’t be going off to play in college. This is their last try and it’s important to realize that in the moment. Most times we don’t realize that until 20-30 years later on the softball field. These kids are living in the moment, enjoying it and it’s been a hell of a ride.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com