MIDDLETOWN - Any high school baseball coach in the area preaches the importance of pitching and defense - citing throwing strikes on the mound and limiting mistakes in the field - as the keys to making a deep run in the state tournament.
That mindset certainly holds a great deal of truth, but it also helps to score runs, and the Berlin baseball team has done plenty of that during its run to the Class L state final.
The top-seeded Redcoats (22-2) prepare for Friday’s state final bout against No. 15 Waterford (16-8) having scored at least seven runs in each state tournament game thus far, enjoying production throughout the lineup where a new hero seems to emerge with each passing contest.
In the first round, it was Jeff Kuzoian and Ryan Hyde blasting a pair of two-run home runs to erase a 4-0 deficit against Weston. In the semifinals, Paul D’Amore and Holden Murphy each laced a three-run double to provide the pitching staff with plenty of run support, something the Berlin arms have been used to since the tournament began.
“I guess I’m putting the right guys out there,” head coach Leo Veleas said. “It’s a matter of execution, and to get a good pitch to hit. They have to give you something to hit eventually, so just put the barrel on the ball. We preach to swing at strikes. It’s as simple as that.”
Murphy’s bases-clearing double in the fifth inning in Tuesday’s semifinals epitomized the Redcoats’ ability to catch fire at the right time. Murphy, a staple in the bottom of the order, had been struggling to find holes in the outfield, at least until the season was on the line.
“I haven’t been hitting well all year,” Murphy said. “But I came through.”
The entire Berlin order has been coming through over the past four games. After the comeback win over Weston, the Redcoats exploded for nine runs in the first inning during their second-round matchup with Stratford. In that blowout 11-3 win, it was Gianni Fanelli going deep for the Redcoats, while Tom Hyjek and Nick Mellville enjoyed multi-hit games to further spread the wealth throughout the lineup, which experiences a jolt of confidence every time a different player comes through in an RBI situation. Given how much variety has been involved with the team’s run production, confidence must be at an all-time high.
“Collectively as a team, we’re hitting the ball well,” D’Amore said. “We’ve had big innings scattered through the last couple of games. The fact that we can all get on base and we’re all able to hit the ball into the gaps is huge.”
Those big innings have included the nine-run frame in the second round and a pair of four-run outbursts in the semifinals, as Berlin has represented a ticking time bomb each time it returns from the field to pick up the bats.
“I think we’re a great hitting team up and down the lineup,” Murphy said. “One through nine, everyone is doing their part, getting on base and working the count. We’re getting key hits in key spots.”
In a time of year where every offense sees the opponent’s best starters, the Redcoats have ramped up their offense, and hope for one final explosion when they go for their first state title since 2005.
“We’re bringing the bats here in late May and early June,” Hyde said. “It’s huge to see everyone producing.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org