SOUTHINGTON — What happens when one of the state’s best pitchers faces one of the state’s best lineups?
We’ll find out Monday night when the unbeaten Southington baseball team hosts unbeaten East Catholic and its ace, Frank Mozzicato. The Central Connecticut Conference’s top-ranked teams clash at Fontana Field at 6:30 p.m.
Both enter the game at 12-0. Both are ranked in GameTime CT’s top 10 — East Catholic at No. 2, Southington at No. 5.
Each stands atop its respective class in the CIAC state rankings — Southington in Class LL, East Catholic in Class M.
But they arrive at this point somewhat as polar opposites.
The Blue Knights have rolled to their perfect start behind a lineup SHS hitting coach Brian Crowley calls “the best 1-9 lineup” he’s coached over his decade at the school.
Southington has averaged just over 10 runs a game and has had five contests stopped after five innings due to the CIAC’s 10-run “mercy” rule.
As a team, the Blue Knights are hitting a remarkable .398 with 10 home runs and 48 extra base hits.
Much of East Catholic’s success has come this season with Mozzicato on the mound.
The 6-foot-2 lefty is already committed to UConn. He threw a no-hitter last week to improve to 4-0.
Through his first three games, Mozzicato averaged nearly 17 strikeouts an outing and his ERA stands at under one run a game.
To accommodate upwards of 20 professional scouts who flock to his games, Mozzicato has been installed as East Catholic’s starting pitcher on Mondays.
And why not? With a fastball that sits in the low 90s and slider that disappears at the plate, he came into his senior season among the nation’s top-ranked pitchers. Projected to be drafted by an MLB team in the top 10 rounds, Mozzicato may never step foot on the Storrs’ campus.
Southington’s sluggers, however, are up to the challenge.
“I’m excited, we’re all excited (to face Mozzicato),” senior outfielder Jack McManus said. “We can’t wait. We’re ready to go. We’ve never been more ready. “
“Monday is going to show us what we are made of,” senior infielder Devin Pelletier said. “We’ve been waiting for this day for a month and a half now. I can’t wait.”
“It’s a great matchup; it’s going to be a test,” senior shortstop Devin Bade said. “He’s a heck of a pitcher, but this is what we’ve prepared for. I think, 1 through 9, we are all ready.”
McManus, Pelletier, Bade and Dante D’Amore make up a SHS “core four” in the middle of the lineup. This foursome has combined to hit .506 with 8 home runs, 28 extra base hits and 56 RBI.
“This year we’re really loaded offensively,” D’Amore, who leads the Blue Knights in most offensive categories.
D’Amore has committed to Sacred Heart. The first baseman is hitting .545 with a 1.030 slugging percentage. He has a team-high 16 RBI, three home runs, three doubles and a pair of triples.
Bade, who is going to Binghamton University, checks in at a team-high .561 average. He has 12 RBI, three doubles, three home runs and two triples.
Pelletier has driven in 15 runs and is hitting an even .500 with four doubles and a triple.
“We’ve just got to keep swinging,” added D’Amore. “We’ve got a tough game Monday and we’ll see what this offense is really made of.”
At the top of the SHS lineup is another senior, Drew Belcourt. He is hitting .483 with five doubles and 14 runs scored.
“The way that I sort of describe them is, ‘They are professionals,’” Crowley said. “They don’t come out of the strike zone a lot. They hit to all fields. They are very relaxed, very composed.”
As for facing Mozzicato on Monday night?
“The kid is solid; he’s a prospect,” Crowley said. “But you know what? I think our guys will compete.”
“They are going to have to shorten up their swings,” Crowley added. “We obviously have to put the ball in play. And we are going to have to take advantage of every little miscue and we have to play clean.
“But we are excited.”
Like every high school team, the 2021 season was something of an unknown at SHS. The last time we saw this senior class of Blue Knights, they were sophomores on junior varsity.
Bade is the only current senior to see the varsity field as a sophomore. He joined the 2019 team during a postseason that saw the Blue Knights lose to Staples 3-0 in the Class LL state title game.
As a group, these Southington seniors never played baseball as juniors. The pandemic cancelled high school spring sports in 2020.
So each players’ first hit this season was also his first at the varsity level.
“I don’t think it really fazed us, not having varsity experience,” D’Amore said. “That’s what’s great about this team. Who cares if you were a freshman two years ago? The juniors have stepped up and played well. We were sophomores, and we are playing well.
“It really is like a coming-out party for us,” D’Amore added. “No one has seen us before, and we kind of like that. No one knows who we are and we come out and play well. They’ll remember us after that.”
From Day 1 these Blue Knights knew offense wouldn’t be an issue.
“You could tell, right from the beginning, in those first practices,” said catcher Jake DellaVecchia, who his hitting .488 with 13 RBI. “We had a lineup that could hit.”
Indeed, the Blue Knights came out raking.
Southington beat Tolland 14-1 in Game 1. The Blue Knights then needed just five innings to beat South Windsor 14-0, the first of Southington’s five “mercy-rule” wins.
“It’s been a lot of fun coming out every day and just dominating teams,” McManus said.
“1 through 9, I’ve never seen a team with better swings,” Crowley said. “We are solid.
“Now, we can have our off game, but there are always three or four guys who don’t have an off day. When you have five hitters, and three have off days, you have two left. We have nine guys who can hit.”
There really isn’t a hole in the Southington lineup. Junior Jackson Rusiecki hit ninth on Friday night against Bristol Eastern. He only averages .269, yet went 3-for-4 with a double in Southington’s 9-4 victory.
On a daily basis, you’ll find a .300 hitter on the SHS bench. At Muzzy Field on Friday night, it was Jackson Cardozo’s turn to sit. The senior is hitting .350 and has batted as high as No. 6 in the lineup as a designated hitter.
Nicknamed “Action Jackson,” the speedy Cardozo has two doubles, a triple and home run.
“We just came into the year firing; I love this group of guys,” Pelletier said. “I think our chemistry is awesome. We’ve gelled together great so far. We just have to keep this up going forward.”
While its offense has dominated through 12 games, Southington’s pitching hasn’t been too shabby. D’Amore, Bade and junior Vincent Borghese give the Blue Knights a solid 1-2-3 starting rotation.
Bade (2-0) hasn’t given up a run in four starts and 14 innings.
D’Amore, who’ll start Monday’s game against Mozzicato, is 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA. He has 28 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings.
Borghese is also 4-0 with a 2.26 ERA in his first varsity season.