The process has been troublesome for Verderame and players like Mike Rogalski, who was striving to emerge offensively after a difficult scholastic campaign.
Rogalski emerged in convincing fashion Sunday as he drove in three runs to back the lights-out hurling of Joe Rivera, enabling 12th-seeded Post 72 to sink No. 13 South Windsor 7-0 at John Fontana Field in the opening round of the American Legion state tournament.
Southington, which has won 10 of its last 11 games and stands at 17-8, will host Zone 1 rival Terryville today with Kyle Cole getting the start. Terryville, seeded 20th, nipped No. 5 West Hartford 2-1 in 10 innings Sunday.
Today’s winner will play Zone 6 champion Waterford in a best-of-three series for the right to advance to the Northern Division regional championships at Muzzy Field in Bristol, slated to begin Saturday. During the regular season, Terryville took two of three against Southington.
Looking down the road, Southington will have to make it through without the services of Rivera. The UConn-bound right-hander has been fulfilling obligations in Storrs as he prepares for his freshman year, and his final game at Fontana was memorable.
Rogalski (2-for-4) cracked a pair of doubles, the first highlighting a six-run sixth inning in which 10 came to bat. Playing in the unfamiliar pastures of right field, Rogalski also gunned down a runner at the plate that would have given South Windsor a lead in the fifth inning.
Thoughts of a dismal high school season at the plate dissipated. “It’s all Coach [Verderame],” Rogalski said. “We haven’t had much time to practice, but lately he’s been pounding me in the cage. He’s helped me and [first baseman Josh] Dobratz to clear our hands faster, and Dobratz is the hottest hitter on the team.”
Dobratz went 3-for-3, was hit by a pitch and scored twice.
Rogalski endured a bad at-bat in the second. Dobratz led off with a single and, with one out, Rogalski tapped back to the box on a half-swing. Dobratz was forced at second and an opportunity was squandered.
“It’s been a struggle for Mike, but we put work in on his swing,” Verderame said. “Sometimes he reverts back, but he went back up there and had good swings. It’s a work in progress.”
Rivera yielded three hits over seven innings, walked two and struck out 10 before handing the reins to southpaw Austin Bumbera. Bumbera tossed two hitless frames to end the season for South Windsor (15-10).
But Post 42 starter David Caye did match Rivera through five innings by commanding his off-speed pitches and causing a lot of bad swings.
“It was close early,” Verderame said. “[Caye] kept us off-balance, but Joe was dominating. I wondered how far he could go, but thankfully that decision was made easier for me.”
The big rally began when Brett Shaw’s routine fly to medium left field was dropped. A tiring Caye walked catcher Zac Susi and hit Dobratz to load the sacks.
After Joe Daigle walked to force in the game’s first run, Rogalski rammed a 1-0 pitch up the left field alley to make it 3-0 and end Caye’s outing.
With Nick Romaniello on, Rivera was hit by a pitch to refill the bases. Josh Makles stroked an RBI single to center and Ryan DeAngelo followed suit. Shaw’s sacrifice fly finished the job.
“The guys were working their at-bats,” Verderame said of the 10-hit attack. “You take good swings and the hits come.”
Southington added a run in the seventh on doubles by Dobratz and Rogalski.
The only two walks Rivera yielded wound up in scoring position in the second and third frames, respectively, but he refused to break.
In the fifth, Steve Battaglini led off with an opposite-field single and took second on Adam Bettigole’s sacrifice bunt. With two down, Cooper Goslin shot a single to right, but Rogalski charged it and threw a strike to Susi to beat the runner by plenty.
“I’m not exactly an outfielder,” Rogalski said. “I’ve been an infielder my whole life, but I had to force-fit into the outfield. I’d like to think I’m versatile. I’ve worked on my mechanics with my throws. I let it fly and good things happened.”