The Berlin baseball team shared a brief celebration on Palmer Field after Tuesdayâ€™s Class M semifinal win over Notre-Dame West Haven, but head coach Leo Veleas quickly brought the Redcoats back down to earth when he looked at the final scoreboard in left center field.
â€śFour errors,â€ť Veleas said bluntly before repeating it again to drive the point home. â€śFour errors. Just think if we played well. Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™m happy, and itâ€™s always nice when you win, but we kept them in the game. They only had three hits for a long time there.â€ť
With a matchup against No. 15 Waterford (16-8) looming on Friday night at 7 p.m. for the state title, Berlin hopes to clean up its defense so it can enjoy a more lengthy celebration at Palmer Field, one that would commemorate the programâ€™s first state title since 2005.
Entering the tournament as the top seed, the Redcoats have marched to their first state final appearance in a decade by ignoring their seeding completely, which has helped alleviate the pressure that can come with being the No. 1 seed.
â€śWe donâ€™t feel any added pressure,â€ť senior catcher Ryan Hyde said. â€śCoach Veleas has been stressing to us that records no longer matter. Everything up to this point doesnâ€™t matter. We go into every state tournament game feeling like weâ€™re the underdog, regardless of who is picking us or talking about us. Weâ€™re going in with something to prove. Our mentality isnâ€™t going to change going into the state championship game.â€ť
Of course, seeing Waterford hang 16 runs on No. 6 Masuk in the state semifinals was enough to recognize the Lancers as a potent offensive threat, one that makes limiting mistakes in the field even more important if Berlin wants to walk away as state champ.
â€śIt was an impressive score, seeing it on Twitter,â€ť Hyde said. â€śWe were all following along to see who we were going to play. Itâ€™s just a tribute to them. Theyâ€™re having a great season and we know we need to show up on Friday night, or else weâ€™ll be in trouble.â€ť
The Redcoatsâ€™ defense lagged behind on Tuesday, committing errors in the infield and outfield to keep the Green Knights within striking distance until the fifth inning. Had the bats not come through late in the form of a three-run double by Holden Murphy, Berlin might not be preparing for a state final right now.
â€śIf itâ€™s a close game in the finals, we canâ€™t have those costly errors that impact the outcome of the game,â€ť center fielder Gianni Fanelli said. â€śThe whole season has been about pitching and defense. If we can pitch and play defense, then all we have to worry about is the offense, which I think is the strongest part of our team.â€ť
Fanelliâ€™s assessment backs up the Redcoatsâ€™ performance this tournament, scoring at least seven runs in each game.
Fridayâ€™s final will present a new experience, as Berlin hasnâ€™t played Waterford this season. They do share a pair of common opponents in Fitch and Wethersfield, with the Redcoats beating the Falcons 6-2 on May 14, while the Lancers split their season series against them. Berlin beat the Eagles early in the regular season, and Waterford shocked the defending champs in the second round of the tournament, winning 5-4 in eight innings.
â€śThey made it to the finals just like us, so theyâ€™re obviously a good team coming in,â€ť Fanelli said. â€śWe just have to focus on our game, but itâ€™s going to be a battle.â€ť
The Redcoats are prepared for that battle, emphasizing defense in recent practices to fix the miscues that occurred on Tuesday. With Adam Bilinsky or Mark Addamo likely slated to start the state final, both choices will bring a solid track record into the biggest game of the season.
Of course, theyâ€™ll only go as far as their defense takes them, which they hope is all the way into the history books as the Class L state champions.
â€śI think a lot of (Tuesday) was just physical mistakes in the moment, but weâ€™ve been working to sharpen that stuff up and I think weâ€™ll be ready for (Friday),â€ť shortstop Dan Veleas said. â€śIf weâ€™re clean and we throw strikes, then Iâ€™m confident weâ€™ll get the job done.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org