SOUTHINGTON — Coach Marc Verderame and his Southington American Legion baseball players enjoyed a golden era over the past two summers, winning the state championship in 2018, finishing as state runner-up in 2019 and advancing to the Northeast Regional both years.
After last summer, it looked like the run was over. While Verderame was sticking around to coach Post 72, the bulk of the players were “aging out” of Legion ball.
Turns out there’s a sequel.
Verderame and his former players are back together this summer, just in different uniforms and on a different stage. They make up the Southington Shock of the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League, which opened the 2020 season on Wednesday night.
“It’s exciting. I kind of thought we had moved on and we wouldn’t be together anymore — guys I’ve won with, won titles with,” Verderame said. “It’s funny how things work out. It’s like the last dance.”
A dance, ironically, born out of many a stumble after the coronavirus pandemic unleashed one deflating note after another this spring on the baseball beat. College seasons were suspended in mid-March and then cancelled. The Connecticut high school season never got going.
Then summer took a hit, with some of the bigger college wood bat leagues cancelling and American Legion pulling the plug.
When Legion was officially cancelled in mid-May, Verderame and Charlie Lembo, the Southington High School coach, advised the town’s high school-aged players looking to play summer ball to find spots on travel teams.
That’s why, ultimately, Southington didn’t have sufficient numbers to play in the independent league put together by state Legion administrators and coaches as a Legion replacement for the 2020 summer (see related story).
Verderame, though, was now available to coach a team. That team became the Shock when Lembo, who had been coaching the franchise since the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League was established in 2009, bounced over to the general manager’s role.
The shift in management dovetailed with changes forced on players by the pandemic. With a number of other wood bat leagues, such as the New England Collegiate Baseball League, staying shuttered for 2020, many Southington college players are home for the summer and available to play for the Shock.
Typically, the Shock has been “Southington” in name only. While the team plays its home games at Southington High School’s Fontana Field, the majority of players were often from other towns. Not so this year. Of the 26 players on the roster, 15 are from Southington.
The names are familiar to anyone who followed those magical Legion seasons of 2018 and 2019. They include pitchers John Mikosz (Wheaton College), Ryan Herderson (ECSU) and Nick Borkowski (Endicott), catcher Josh Panarella (Sacred Heart), and positional players Braydon Cooney (King) and Dylan Chiaro (New Haven).
Western New England teammates Brandon Kohl, Dan Topper and Jake Romano — all ex-Legion players — are aboard.
Nico Gaudio (Post), Connor Crean (Southern New Hampshire) and Dylan Albert (RPI) are also on the Shock roster along with Jake Babon (WCSU), Kyle Leifert (AIC) and 2020 Southington High grad Ethan McDonough, who’s heading to Ithaca College.
Verderame and his reconstituted crew opened Wednesday night at East Catholic against the Manchester Meagles (yes, Meagles; one of three Manchester-based teams in this year’s CCBL).
The Shock will be back on the same field Friday night to face the defending CCBL champs, the Manchester Mavericks. The home opener at Southington High is Sunday, a doubleheader against the Mavericks that starts at 5 p.m.
The Shock will visit the other local CCBL team, coach Matt Altieri’s Wallingford Silver Storm, on July 6 at Pat Wall Field at 7 p.m.
The Simsbury SaberCats, Glastonbury Arrows and Tobacco Valley Renegades — longtime league staples — round out the loop along with the Brass City Bombers and the Manchester Eagles. The regular season runs through July, with a playoff following in early August.
“It’s going to be a good league,” Verderame said. “The thing about it is, a lot of these bigger (college summer) leagues aren’t going, kids aren’t traveling out of state, going to upstate New York or the Cape, if they’re good enough, so there’s a lot of good talent in the CCBL this summer, which is exciting because we thought we would have no baseball a month ago.”