MIDDLETOWN - Berlin baseball head coach Leo Veleas wasnât shy when discussing the value of his graduating senior class.
âThey carried us the whole year,â Veleas said after the Redcoatsâ 1-0 loss to Waterford in Friday nightâs Class L state championship. âThey did a great job.â
Itâs no secret the senior class will leave a gaping hole in Berlinâs roster once they toss their graduation caps next week. The evidence of what Veleas, who started who started eight seniors in the championship defeat, will be missing was littered all over the teamâs state tournament run.
In Fridayâs final, senior starter Adam Bilinsky tossed six brilliant shutout innings before a bloop single and a grounder up the middle led to the only run of the game in the top of the seventh. Three days prior, senior Holden Murphy laced a two-out, three-run double to blow open a tight game in the state semifinals. In the first round, home runs by seniors Ryan Hyde and Jeff Kuzoian helped erase an early 4-0 deficit to kick-start Berlinâs run to the title game. No matter the victory for the Redcoats this season, the seniorsâ fingerprints were all over it.
The seniors are obviously leaving behind a lot of production, leading Veleas to be honest when asked how exactly they can be replaced next season.
âYou canât,â Veleas said. âYou just hope the younger kids come in and fill some holes. Thatâs all you can hope for.â
Veleas has been Berlinâs head coach for more than three decades, and has seen plenty of quality senior groups come and go. Standing on Palmer Field after coaching his current senior core for the last time, Veleas acknowledged the randomness of replacing established veterans. Only play on the field next spring will give an honest evaluation after losing a core group of players.
âEvery year is different,â Veleas said. âEveryone says âoh, youâre gonna have a good team,â and I say âhow do you know?â You graduate seven, eight or nine starters. Itâs tough to replace those guys. Somebody will have to pick up the slack. Hopefully someone does. Who knows?â
One area where the Redcoats should have some stability is the pitching staff. Nick Accarpio, Cam Murphy and Mark Addamo will all be back in a Berlin uniform next season, and all three saw extended time on the mound for Veleas this season, which should help ease the departure of his ace in Bilinsky.
âI like our pitchers right now,â Bilinsky said. âWe have two junior pitchers who are really good. They pitched in our last two games [of the tournament] and did a great job. I think weâll still be good.â
As for the seniors themselves, they leave behind a legacy of consistency, one that came just one game short of history. Still, a trip to the state championship for the first time in a decade is made their time playing at Berlin memorable.
âItâs everything,â Hyde said. âItâs memories that will last a lifetime. I wouldnât trade it for anything. Obviously, we all wish the outcome was a little different, but it was a special run with a special group of guys.â
The run is now over, and Veleas will have to tap into some younger talent if the Redcoats are to have a similar run of success next season. Given the quality of talent that is departing, it wonât be an easy task.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org