SOUTHINGTON — After winning Connecticut’s American Legion state championship, Southington’s season isn’t over just yet.
Coming off its eighth-inning, walk-off victory in the finals against Ellington, Post 72 will look to keep its momentum going in the Northeast Regional Tournament.
The regionals run Wednesday through Sunday at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. There, the other New England state champions — plus Ellington, plus host Shrewbury, to balance the field at eight — will face off in a double-elimination tournament. The winner will head down to North Carolina for the national finals.
“I expect that this team will represent Connecticut well and win this whole thing,” Southington head coach Marc Verderame said on the eve the tournament. “These kids have the hearts of champions and they have grown up so much as a group this season that I wouldn’t bet against them.
“After winning the state championship; this is all gravy for us, but we want to take this ride for as long as we can. A lot of these kids, after this, will jump into real life. We want to live this dream a little while longer.”
Southington opens the tournament Wednesday morning with a 9:30 game against Essex, Vt. Win or lose, Southington’s second game will be Thursday against either Ellington or Braintree, Mass.
Braintree is the Massachusetts state champion. The other New England state champs are Rochester, N.H., Cumberland, R.I. and Portland, Maine. Cumberland and Portland go head to head Wednesday immediately after Southington’s game. Ellington and Braintree open the evening session at 4 p.m. Host Shrewsbury Post 397 takes on Rochester in Wednesday’s final game.
With state championships not being decided until this past weekend, the teams at the regional don’t know much about the competition or what they’re up against. So no team really has an advantage over another in terms of information.
“The competition is tough; these teams are all champions,” said Verderame. “At the same time, I think our road was a little tougher than most. We are battle-tested. We came from hell and back. I don’t think many of these team can say that.”
After winning the Connecticut crown on Saturday, Southington has had three days off. That layoff should help Southington’s pitching staff immensely. Every arm will be available and ready to go for the regional.
And, as Verderame mentioned, Southington also has a well-developed postseason psyche. Post 72 made rallies a hallmark of most of its state tournament games. The run also included a 5-0 win in 13 innings over Zone 3 champ Cheshire, one of the state favorites, in the super regional finals.
The comeback wins, extra-inning wins and upsets have created a gritty team mentality. Having been through the gauntlet just to get to this point, Southington should be fearless come game time in Worcester. The next five days at Holy Cross will tell if Post 72 can stand atop all of New England.