AVON — On the surface, the American Legion baseball season has been enigmatic for head coach Marc Verderame and Southington Post 72.
The team has stayed in the race for a state tournament berth by beating the best Zone 1 has to offer, yet has slipped against the mediocre clubs.
What lies at the heart of that inconsistency is not difficult to figure out. The boys in blue have found scoring runs a challenge.
The inability to generate offense rose to the top again Thursday when Southington dropped a 2-1 contest to runaway Zone 1 leader Avon, 2-1, at Avon Old Farms’ George M. Trautman Field.
Southington (9-8) defeated Avon twice earlier in the season on shutouts by Kyle Cole and Joe Rivera and split with second-place Simsbury. Two losses have come against third-place Terryville and seventh-place Unionville and one each to sixth-place Wolcott and eighth-place Torrington.
“We beat two of the top teams in the state three times, then we lose to teams like Wolcott and Unionville, so it’s kind of been up and down in that aspect,” Verderame said. “I keep telling the players they’re going to be judged by who’s standing at the end, not by a loss in the seventh or eighth game. We’ve been up and down, but I’ve preached to these kids that it’s how you finish.”
Cole pitched well enough to win Thursday, yielding seven hits, striking out three and not walking a batter in his six-inning, complete-game effort.
“He’s been our best pitcher. He ran a winning race today, but we just couldn’t support him,” Verderame said.
One facet of the game that hindered Cole’s outing was holding runners close. Avon (17-3-1) stole four bases in five attempts, its one failure coming on an apparent squeeze play when the batter missed the sign. One of the stolen bags played a role in Avon’s two-run fourth inning that erased a 1-0 Southington lead.
Southington, which managed just four singles, threatened in the second and came up empty against starter Cody Doyle, generally Avon’s starting catcher.
Kyle MacLean reached on a two-out miscue, Josh Makles singled and Kyle DeAngelo walked, but Brett Shaw skied to center to leave ‘em loaded.
Post 72 scored its lone tally in the third, but squandered an opportunity to put up a crooked number.
Joe Daigle was hit by a pitch leading off the frame and Ryan DeAngelo drew a walk. Zac Susi rifled a run-scoring single to center to score Daigle and advance Ryan DeAngelo to second.
No. 5 hitter Adam Wilson, trying to move the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice, bunted foul on the third strike for the first out of the inning. The next two hitters grounded out, leaving two in scoring position.
“I gave [Wilson] the sign,” Verderame said. “Two strikes, one strike, no strikes, you’ve got to get a bunt down in that situation.
“The story was we couldn’t get the big hit. They have good pitchers over there, so you’ve got to take what they give you. We had our opportunities early, but we couldn’t come away with anything.”
Avon ran itself out of a potential rally in the third when a relay from Shaw in center to third baseman Ryan DeAngelo to Susi at the plate trapped the lead runner in a rundown. But the home team snatched the lead for good the next inning.
Doyle stroked a leadoff single and stole second. Connor Dunn, ahead 3-1 in the count, roped a single to right, putting runners on the corners. Conor McCutcheon laced a two-run double into the left-field corner. Cole pitched out of further trouble by getting consecutive ground-ball outs.
Dunn came on in the fourth for Avon and chilled the Southington bats.
Josh Dobratz led off the sixth with a single, but Mike Rogalski grounded into a double play.
“We haven’t been executing that well, so I figured I’d give him a chance and it didn’t work out,” Verderame said.
Southpaw Mike Castellani entered in the seventh and struck out the side to notch a save.
Southington has a grueling week ahead with doubleheaders against Bristol, Wolcott and Winsted along with a makeup game against Simsbury.
Terryville, Southington, Bristol and Wolcott are all within 1½ games of each other as they battle for a postseason berth and optimal seeds.
“We control our own destiny, but we’ve got have some kids step up,” Verderame said.