Plenty of options to choose from for most memorable baseball teams in area history

Published on Sunday, 19 April 2020 15:38
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER and MATT HORNICK

@SportsInCT

When it comes to the history of local high school baseball, there is no shortage of memorable teams to choose from.

The area has produced a number of state champions across multiple schools, with Plainville leading the way with eight state titles, while Berlin has six of its own. Southington and New Britain each have multiple state championships, and two local teams reached the state final as recently as last season.

Given the widespread success in the area, picking the top baseball teams of all time was a difficult task, but here are the most memorable squads to take the diamond:

NEW BRITAIN 1972, 1974

After a loss in the 1971 state title game to East Hartford, the Hurricanes went on to win the program’s first state championship in 1972 behind manager Ken Kezer, who would go on to become one of the most accomplished baseball coaches in state history.

Ken Skoglund and Paul Vater were a two-headed monster in Kezer’s rotation, combining for four starts in the state tournament and posting two shutouts apiece. Skoglund’s 11-inning masterpiece in the quarterfinals helped secure a thrilling 1-0 victory over Bridgeport Central, which was completed with a game-winning hit by Vater.

After being shut out the previous season, the Hurricanes blanked Notre Dame-West Haven 7-0 in the state final to become champs for the first time. Two years later, Kezer’s group was back, taking down West Haven 6-2 in the Class LL state championship game. Don Fusari, who scored the game-winner in the quarterfinals, would go on to a successful career at Eastern Connecticut State University, becoming the only player in program history to earn three All-American selections, while Kezer would become a New Britain legend, accounting for the team’s only two state titles and reaching the state final five times in the 1970s. He retired with 554 career wins and was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

BERLIN 1989, 1990

Having gone without a state championship for more than three decades, the Redcoats returned to glory in dominant fashion in 1989, rolling to the Class M state title after being the top-ranked team in Connecticut all year. Berlin lost just one game in 1989, earning the top overall seed in the state tournament before shutting out Platt in the second round and St. Paul in the quarterfinals. After a thrilling 2-1 win over Bassick in the semifinals, the Redcoats handled No. 6 Stamford Catholic 7-2 to win the state championship.

Sean Garrison, one of the best pitchers in Redcoats history, was a prolific ace all season, going undefeated en route to All-State and Gatorade Player of the Year honors.

The team had another Gatorade Player of the Year winner in 1990, this time going to Dave Swanson, another dominant pitcher that helped Berlin post seven consecutive shutouts en route to a perfect 22-0 season. The Redcoats outscored their opponents 178-19 on the season and posted two more shutouts in the state tournament before claiming a close 4-3 win over New London at Muzzy Field to become back-to-back champs.

PLAINVILLE, 2012

The Blue Devils had already racked up seven state titles in baseball by the 2012 season, and No. 8 looked like a tough get after finishing 13-7 in the regular season. But once the state tournament got underway, Plainville took off.

Operating as the 11th seed in the Class M state tournament, the Blue Devils thrashed Windham Tech 17-2 in the first round and later thumped Goodwin Tech 10-0 in the quarterfinals. The destruction continued in the semifinals with an 11-4 win over Weston, where junior Matt Thomas laced a bases-clearing triple, one of his three hits on the day, to break the game open and secure a trip to the state final, where Plainville completed the run with a 3-1 victory over Haddam-Killingworth, which had taken out tip-seeded Montville earlier in the tournament.

NEWINGTON, 2011

By the spring of 2011, Newington High School was starving for a state championship. Not just in baseball, but anything. The school hadn’t won a state title in any CIAC event since 1980, and as the 2011 Class LL state tournament began, it didn’t look like the Indians were going to end that painful streak.

Then Newington caught fire and went on a run the town will never forget.

The Indians earned the 17th seed in the tournament after a 12-8 regular season, and just snuck by No. 16 Windsor with a 2-1 win in the first round. Then came a massive 6-4 upset win over top-seeded Glastonbury, and Newington was on its way. After a shutout win over Danbury, the Indians battled Amity into extra innings in the semifinals, and after pinch runner Hunter Blais was picked off at third base in the top of the 10th, Newington came right back and put a runner in scoring position when Cole Bryant reached second on an error, and Sam Tinkham drove in Bryant with a single. It was the first of three runs, and the Indians hung on for a 6-5 win. It wasn’t even close to the most exciting finish of the season.

That would come in the next round against rival Southington and ace Sal Romano, who matched Bryant pitch-for-pitch until the Indians held a lead in the seventh, but the Blue Knights tied the game and won it in the eighth when a Romano double scored Matt Spruill to extend Newington’ title drought.

Wait, that’s not quite what happened. Spruill missed home plate after coming around on Romano’s double and Newington shouted for an appeal, which was awarded. Spruill was ruled out, sending the game to the ninth. In the 10th, Bryant singled and came around to score on an error to win the game. Bryant was exhausted, Spruill was in disbelief, and the Indians were finally champs.

BERLIN, 1995

The Redcoats have won other titles, including more recent ones like in 1999 and 2005, but the 1995 team was an absolute force all season, going 22-1 and becoming the top-ranked team in the state after winning the Class M state championship. Cory Carlson was the team’s top pitcher, earning All-State recognition and his second all-conference nod. Carlson helped Berlin grab the top seed in the tournament, where the Redcoats rolled to the state final and shut down East Catholic 7-0 to win their second of three titles in the 1990s.

ST. PAUL, 2016    

St. Paul went 44 years between state championships in baseball, which made the 2016 run to the title even more special. The Falcons posted a 15-5 regular season record and earned the fourth seed in the Class S state tournament. 

Facing Coginchaug in the first round, the Falcons had no issues as they picked up a 15-6 win. A 4-0 shutout of Notre Dame-Fairfield in the next round put them in the quarterfinals to face Portland, which they slid out of with a 6-5 victory. 

In the semifinals, St. Paul bested Old Lyme 5-2 for a rematch with third-seeded Morgan, the team that eliminated the Falcons in the quarterfinals in the previous year’s tournament. Led by 13 strikeouts from All-State pitcher Connor Crean, the Falcons claimed their first state championship since 1972 with a 4-2 win. Crean walked eight batters in the contest, but stranded 11 baserunners in game, which included escaping from two base-loaded jams to give head coach Victor Rinaldi a championship in his first season. Crean moved on to pitch at Southern New Hampshire University. 

BRISTOL EASTERN, 1986

Mike Giovinazzo coached plenty of talented teams during his 45 years as the head coach of the Bristol Eastern baseball team, but the lone state championship of his career came from a team that probably would not have been expected to run the table. 

Qualifying as the 17th-seeded team in the Class L tournament, the Lancers opened its 1986 postseason run on the road at Foran. They gathered a 6-3 win to earn the opportunity to face top-seeded Masuk in the second round. Eastern was victorious again as it squeaked out a 7-6 victory over the tournament’s No. 1 seed to move on to quarterfinals.

The Lancers won with a pair of dominant performances in its next two games starting with a 6-1 win over Wethersfield in the quarterfinals. They backed it up with a 9-1 thrashing of Cheney Tech in the semifinals and punched their ticket to the championship game. 

The only team still in Eastern’s way was second-seeded East Lyme, a team with a knack for putting up big run totals, which it continued to do. The Lancers needed to send a lot of players around the bases to be able to compete and received exactly what they needed as they were able to post 11 runs for an 11-7 win. 

PLAINVILLE 1983-84

With eight state championships in baseball, Plainville has been one of the premier programs in the state over the past 35 years. The beginning of this prestigious baseball legacy came in 1983 when the Blue Devils put together an unforgettable year that ended with the first of two consecutive Class M championships.

Led by two-time All-State honorees Jeff Howes and Rick Ouellette, the Blue Devils went a perfect 23-0 in 1983 and outscored their opponents 194-58 in the process. The top-seeded team in the East Region of the 1983 state tournament, Plainville needed four wins to hoist a state championship trophy. They closed it out with a 5-1 over Sheehan in the Class M final to win the first state title in program history.

With expectations through the roof in 1984, the Blue Devils got off to a slow start following the 1983 championship. After starting the year 3-5, they rifled off 17 consecutive wins to qualify as the fourth-seeded team in the state tournament and outscored opposing teams 195-42 in that span. Plainville batted a combined .320 while holding its opponents to a .167 batting average. The team posted at least 10 runs in each of its first three postseason games and finished a repeat effort with a 7-5 win over Berlin.

PLAINVILLE 1994-95

After splitting the previous two state championship games, the 1994 Blue Devils baseball team had no intention of slowing down. Anchored by Earl Snyder, Jeff Sengle and Scott Redmen, Plainville earned the ninth seed in the 1994 Class L tournament and used its postseason experience to its advantage.

The Blue Devils got started with a 10-2 win over Guilford followed by a 7-2 win over eighth-seeded Sheehan on the road. Their next task was to dispatch top-seeded Jonathan Law, which they did before beating St. Joseph 8-5 to earn a spot in their third consecutive state championship game. 

Facing Holy Cross, Snyder put Plainville on the board early with a monstrous home run rarely seen at the high school level. However, the game needed 10 innings to be decided, and the Blue Devils took a 10-6 lead. Redmen took the mound in relief and pitched five innings to close out the win. 

Snyder went on to the University of Hartford after that season, but Sengle and Redmen brought the Blue Devils back to the Class L championship game as the second-seeded team 1995. Sengle hit .340 as a senior captain and stole 25 bases over the season, In the 1995 state championship, he contributed to the 15-3 rout of Maloney with three stolen bases and three runs scored off of three walks. The starting pitcher this time, Redmen pitched seven lights out innings en route to his second straight state title.

SOUTHINGTON, 1994

Taking over in 1962, the year after Southington won its first high school baseball championship, head coach John Fontana needed 32 years to bring the Blue Knights back to the top of the mountain. Having coached in three state title games previously, 1994 was the year he would not come in second place.

A 16-2 regular season garnered Southington the third seed in the Class LL tournament, which earned them a bye in the first round. After a 3-2 win over Xavier in the second round, the Blue Knights defeated Norwalk to reach the semifinals where they met second-seeded Bristol Eastern. Southington squeaked out a 1-0 win in a pitchers’ duel to earn a spot in the championship game for the first time since 1988. 

Facing ninth-seeded West Haven at Palmer Field, Fontana was finally able to guide the Blue Knights to the Promised Land with a 4-1. He did not have to wait another 32 years for his next title as Southington brought another championship home in 1999.



Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, New Britain, Newington, Plainville, Southington on Sunday, 19 April 2020 15:38. Updated: Sunday, 19 April 2020 15:40.