BERLIN - Itâ€™s always a tough conversation to have, Vic Rinaldi says, whenever he has to speak to his guys after a deep state tournament run that still wasnâ€™t quite long enough.
Thatâ€™s because winning a state championship may not be the standard, but itâ€™s certainly the expectation for Rinaldi.
So when the head coachâ€™s St. Paul baseball team first stormed back for a wild quarterfinals victory over Portland, and then held a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning of a semifinals game against Coventry, it seemed like the Falcons were going to get their shot to hang another banner alongside the programâ€™s 2016 state title embroiderment in the St. Paul gym.
But the Fates had other ideas, as Coventry blitzed St. Paul for a 6-4 come-from-behind victory that forced the Falcons to bow out a step shy of returning to Palmer Field.
In his closing postgame speech, Rinaldi said goodbye to three seniors (Chris Mills, Dylan Gagnon, Sean Crean) whom he said gave great effort and showcased strong work ethic throughout their careers.
The trio arrived at St. Paul the same year Rinaldi took over the program, and each saw the precedent that was set by Rinaldi and his staff during that 2016 championship season. A precedent that will not change, even after they walked off the field following Tuesdayâ€™s semifinal defeat.
â€śObviously, our goal once we get to the state tournament is to win it,â€ť Rinaldi said. â€śWeâ€™re not satisfied with just making the state tournament. Each year, we wanna try and win it. Thatâ€™s gonna be our goal next year.
â€śFor me, itâ€™s always been, if youâ€™re gonna make the state tournament your goal is to win it. Maybe itâ€™s me, but weâ€™re not a school thatâ€™s gonna be happy to win eight games and qualify for the state tournament.â€ť
Rinaldi said he believes that state title-or-bust attitude begins from the top down with the coaching staff and the administration, and it trickles down to his players.
Over the years, the Falcons expect to put themselves in a position to win their final game of the season, and this season, they came closer than they have since 2016 after losses in the 2017 and 2018 quarterfinals.
â€śItâ€™s never easy to lose, especially this deep in the state tournament,â€ť Rinaldi said. â€śObviously, you donâ€™t wanna lose in the first round, but as you get deeper, it gets a little harder because youâ€™re so close and you can taste it.â€ť
Rinaldi said he and assistant coach Jarrett Stawarz talked to the club about their own experiences during their senior seasons in high school. At Sacred Heart, for example, Rinaldi still remembers his teamâ€™s rough loss to Derby in the quarterfinals in his last year, and whenever he and his high school teammates get together, they still bring up that defeat.
If youâ€™re not the team that wins its final game of the season, you will be talking about your last game with some anguish.
â€śThatâ€™s just the way it works,â€ť Rinaldi said.
There is a host of Falcons, however, that will have at least one more shot at ensuring that in five years â€¦ 10 years â€¦ 15 years, they will gather for reunions and relish the final dogpile after capturing that state title.
That list includes junior starting pitcher Ethan Rembish and seven other Falcon underclassmen who were in the starting lineup against Coventry: Julian Thayer, Walker Sharp, Josh Cofransesco, Ryan Parent (juniors); Shaun Remillard (sophomore); Ryan Daniels, Mario Izzo (freshmen).
Dozens of baseball programs across the state, Class LL through S, have the same championship mindset as the Falcons. But there are much fewer programs that will return as many critical players at key spots. Thatâ€™s what will make this a lethal team headed into the 2020 season, one in which St. Paul will be expected to once again compete for NVL and state titles.
â€śWe have to strive to work harder in the offseason to get ready and make sure we get better,â€ť Rinaldi said. Weâ€™re gonna have another opportunity next year.â€ť
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or