MIDDLETOWN — Palmer Field didn’t look so bad to Southington’s Joe Rivera the second time around.
Rivera, teaming up with Maloney catcher Mike Gulino and the rest of the Connecticut Senior All-Stars, enjoyed a 2-1 victory Saturday over Massachusetts in the seventh annual New England Challenge on the very field where, only a week ago, he and his Southington teammates lost 8-2 to Amity in the CIAC Class LL championship game.
“Last Sunday was a tough loss, but it’s a game of baseball,” Rivera said. “You’ve got to move on from it and you’ve got to keep playing because, if you live in the past, it’s just going to eat you up and take you for its own.”
This future University of Connecticut athlete proved Saturday he’s capable of picking up and focusing on the next task at hand despite disappointment. After suffering the pitching loss against Amity, Rivera worked on shortening his stride and his efforts paid off Saturday. He was named the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Pitcher.
“There’s a lot of talent out of this senior class, so being able to be picked for this to represent Connecticut is a really great accomplishment and it means a lot,” Rivera said.
Rivera worked two shutout innings, striking out four Bay State batters. He notched a fifth out covering at first base.
Rivera also showed his versatility while playing in center field, making a big catch to continue holding Massachusetts at bay.
“He played very good,” said Connecticut head coach Mike Phelan of Holy Cross. “He’s going to UConn, so you know he’s a good player and he proved today how he’s a very talented pitcher.”
Rivera enjoyed winding down his high school baseball career by coming together and getting to know some players who had always been his opponents. Now he’s looking forward to starting up his college career and the competition he’ll face in the American Athletic Conference.
“The conference has a lot of great teams in it that I’m looking forward to playing as well as traveling to,” said Rivera.
As for Gulino, he caught three innings. His highlight was throwing a runner out at second with a fast, accurate throw.
“This was a fun experience getting to play with kids I’ve never played with before and seeing a lot of new faces that I’ve only ever heard about,” Gulino said. “Getting to see them play was such a cool experience.”
“Mike did a great job catching and he hit the ball well,” Phelan noted. “He’s a great player and deserves to be here,” said Coach Phelan.
Next up for Gulino is Division II baseball at Pace University in New York. Always striving to become better, Gulino wants to improve his blocking and throwing. He also aims to take his academic approach to the next level.
“I expect to play a lot of baseball, which will be a ton of fun, but obviously school will always come first,” said Gulino.
Aided by Rivera and Gulino, the Connecticut team played a cohesive ball game. The home team grabbed an early lead in the third inning and controlled most of the remaining game. Massachusetts scored its lone run in the eighth.
Connecticut had five hits, one error and left four runners on base. Massachusetts had three hits, no errors and left three runners on base.
“All 20 guys we had here today are all very good ball players,” said Phelan. “All of them, I think, are moving on to play at the next level. The Connecticut baseball talent level is very good. I’ll take it any day.”