NEW BRITAIN - The Goodwin Tech baseball team is in the midst of a solid 11-8 season. But with the year winding down and the state tournament fast approaching, the Gladiators are relying on their seniors to lead the way.
Head coach Joe Granja is confident in all his seniors, especially Paul Prior and Tommy Hughes. After a 9-1 loss against Newington in which the only offense was a first-inning home run by Prior, Granja touched on the qualities Prior and Hughes bring to the table.
“Paul is a strong kid and he hits the ball well,” Granja said. “That ball that he hit [Wednesday] was a bomb. And I’d put him up against anybody. He’s a guy who does it all, whether he’s on the mound or at the plate.”
For Prior, he knows the seniors have a high standard to lead the team. He said there is an even greater pressure on his and Hughes’ shoulders since they are the two best players on the team.
“We are the meat of the team, I feel like,” Prior said. “Everybody contributes but I think if one of us is having a hard day, it could be a tough game. Every day, [Granja] expects us to step up and be there to lead the team.”
The importance of both Prior and Hughes stepping up could not have been more apparent than it was in the loss to Newington. Prior had a solid game at the plate, but made an error in the field. Hughes also struggled, going 0-for-3 from the plate and issuing six walks while on the mound.
But despite the bad game, Hughes has established himself as one of the best players in the state. The Southern Connecticut State-bound player knows his role and embraces the pressure of always having the spotlight on him.
“I like it. I like being one of the better players, with Paul, being able to lead the team,” Hughes said. “We just feel like we are in control and that we are two mentors.”
Hughes elaborated on that mentor role, saying the older players, like him and Prior, have to be aware the younger players are still learning what to do in certain situations.
“With the inexperienced guys, it’s a lot about our communication,” Hughes said. “As leaders, we have to remind them constantly what to do, where to look if they’re fielding the ball, just the basic things because they’re inexperienced.”
But Hughes said he doesn’t mind helping the younger players. The way he sees it, if the older players help the younger players, the team as a whole will be in better shape, not only for this season, but for years to come.
“We want to help them, as players, better themselves so that they can take over our spots when they become upperclassmen,” Hughes said.
For Granja, the state of his team is simple: the seniors will set the tone for everyone else to follow.
“The six seniors are going to lead us,” Granja said. “We’re going to go as they go, especially the way Paul Prior and Tommy Hughes go. They’re our two main leaders so they’re running the ship.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org