July 22, 2014 12:59AM
By Ken Lipshez
SOUTHINGTON — Southington Post 72 went to the American Legion state baseball final last year. The high school team has gone to back-to-back Class LL title games. Southington has a long, honored reputation as one of the state’s top baseball towns.
So this summer, with the Legion team languishing around the .500 mark a week ago, the prevailing feeling among higher seeds is that drawing Post 72 in the playoffs would be a dreaded booby prize.
“Congratulations, you won your zone. Now you’ve got to play Southington,” Post 72 coach Marc Verderame said. “I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Probably not, particularly since Southington put together a 7-1 surge, including 4-0 against its two closest competitors in the Zone 1 standings after successive doubleheader sweeps over the weekend.
Southington (13-8) is all but locked into the zone’s third seed.
The 72 Crew has a doubleheader at home tonight against last-place Winsted (2-19). The regular-season finale is slated for Friday — the completion of a suspended game against Simsbury that Southington leads 2-0 in the second inning.
Simsbury (15-4) and Avon (17-5) are in a virtual tie for first place. Bristol (12-10) and Terryville (11-11) are jockeying for fourth and fifth, the final playoff slots. Wolcott (9-12) and Unionville (9-13) need a late surge and some outside help.
The state tournament begins Sunday with fifth seeds playing fourth seeds in each zone. The survivor plays the third seed and the survivor of that the second seed.
Meanwhile, the top seeds from each zone wait for the dust to settle and play the ultimate survivor in best-of-three sectional series’ for the right to advance to the state regionals.
The Northern Division regionals will be played at Muzzy Field in Bristol July 26-30. The Southern Division squares off at Cubeta Stadium in Stamford. The state final series will be played at Cubeta on August 1-2.
“We were 7-7 and we got the kids together and issued them a challenge,” Verderame said. “We’re talented enough. Let’s make a run.
“We went 6-1 against the competition we’re fighting with and I think that’s a big statement.”
Post 72 went into Bristol on Saturday, a venue that traditionally has been a black hole for Southington and other Zone 1 teams over the years, and emerged with a 5-4, 5-0 sweep.
Austin Bumbera twirled a complete game in the opener, striking out 12 and surviving a shaky defensive effort.
“I thought he was running out of gas when he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Let me finish.’ He went back out and got the job done,” Verderame said.
Joe Rivera, perhaps the best pitcher in the state, overpowered Bristol in the nightcap.
“He brought his ‘A’ game and when he’s on, no one at this level’s going to hit him.” Verderame said. “He really outshone the competition. He’s a great guy to go to in a big spot. That plays into the whole thing that nobody’s going to want to face us.”
The pitching has been consistent all season. Scoring runs has been the problem, but the bats began to awaken against Bristol. Catcher Zac Susi had two hits and two RBI in the first game.
“Susi’s been our best player,” Verderame said. “I think he’s best player in the zone. He’s got a great future. He’s the backbone of the team.”
Josh Dobratz contributed an RBI double.
Verderame used small ball and got solid execution in the second game.
“We were getting our bunts down. We had two suicide squeezes,” Verderame said. “We had only three hits, but we scratched out five runs. That’s more than enough with Joe on the mound.”
Southington swept past Wolcott 5-3 an 13-3 at home Sunday.
Dobratz had four hits and drove in two runs. Ryan DeAngelo had three hits. Kyle MacLean and two hits and three walks. Susi had two hits.
“The kids are coming around,” Verderame said. “We got there nice and early and actually had our first practice of the year.”
Due to the high school team’s deep penetration into the states, there was no prep time heading into the season. That was also why Post 72’s schedule was so back-loaded with doubleheaders.
“We worked on ways to hit with the wooden bats because a lot of the kids hadn’t,” Verderame said. “We went over a few things and the kids really responded.”
Right-hander Shawn Brunoli earned the win in the first game against Wolcott.
Kyle Cole came on with short rest to notch a save. Adam Wilson hurled the second game, which ended after five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Verderame said last year’s team had higher expectations, but this year’s group has captured his heart.
“This year we had half the talent and the late start, but how we finished was impressive,” he said.
“We made it through on guts and it’s been special to me as a coach. Getting through it all has made us stronger as a team.