NEW BRITAIN - The New Britain baseball team is coming off a 16-win season in which it was able to earn the No. 5 seed in the Class LL tournament. The Hurricanes lost five starting players from that team and have a relatively young group this year.
That youth doesn’t temper the expectations for New Britain this season, though, as the team is still expected to compete at a high level and be in the mix for a state title.
“We have a pretty young group this year after we lost so many players from last year but that doesn’t change anything,” head coach Roberto Mercado said. “No matter how old these kids are, they are going to be held to the same standard as every other team has been. We expect to make the state tournament, compete to win the conference and play for a state championship every season.”
The Hurricanes started two freshmen and a sophomore in Friday’s 10-4 win over Goodwin Tech, the team’s first of the season, and got a key contribution from another sophomore in Ruffino Santiago as he recorded the win out of the bullpen.
Mercado clearly isn’t afraid to throw his young players straight into the fire because he knows that there is enough talent on the team for it to be special. While Santiago recorded the win, fellow sophomore Danniel Rivera hit a home run and had two RBI in the game, freshman Justin Adorno added two RBI and Michael Gajda, a freshman catcher, caught a runner stealing.
Early on it is clear that losing the majority of last year’s starting lineup has not left New Britain devoid of talented players.
“We may only have four returning starters from last year but we have filled those holes,” said Rivera, one of the returning starters. “I feel like we are going to do good throughout the season and we expect to be back in the playoffs just like last year.”
The Hurricanes have a variety of different pitchers it can throw out in different situations and the offense looks like it can be a major problem for opposing pitching staffs.
“It is what we have come to expect from the offense,” said Rivera, who finished Saturday’s game 2-4. “We worked the whole offseason on our hitting and we expect to come in and execute. Moving forward, we are just going to keep getting better, we just need some more practice and things will continue to get better.”
While Rivera and the other players are excited about the potential of the offense, Mercado has tempered the expectations a little because he knows the competition level will be ratcheted up. Having said that though, he likes what he has seen so far.
“The guys have been swinging the bats well,” Mercado said. “They have been working hard all offseason and it is kind of carrying over into our season now.
“It is early though and we are going to face quality pitching. Our schedule is not light and it is going to be very difficult so we have to get guys on base and put pressure on the defense and we will see what happens. First two games though, I’m definitely impressed with the offense.”
The start to the season has been good for the New Britain bats but the team only has a 1-1 record to show for it after losing its opener against Platt in walk-off fashion. Because the team is so young it would be unreasonable to expect another 16-win season. The team might take its lumps throughout the year but the main goal is for the end result, in the postseason, to be a strong one.
“To be honest with you, every single game is a learning experience, especially for our younger guys,” Mercado said. “Things like base running, simple things at the plate like approaches we go over in practice. Some guys get it and it clicks and they carry it over into the game. Other guys are able to do it in practice and then come game time they kind of forget.
“So at this point, I think it’s all about repetitions. As the season goes along I think guys will get what we are working on. They are buying into it. It’s a great group of guys and I love coaching them and the rest of the coaching staff does a great job so it’s fun.”
In the end, New Britain still figures to be a contender in a competitive Class LL once again. The key this year figures to be getting the little things right consistently because there is no glaring weakness on the team.
“I think we played pretty good defensively [against Goodwin Tech] but there are some things that could be sharpened up there,” Mercado said. “We are already improving there from the first game though, so my focus is more on the mental mistakes. Errors happen, it’s the mental mistakes that are unacceptable so that’s the one thing we need to focus on.”
“I think we have an all around good team so this season will be a lot of fun,” Rivera said. “We just have to work a little bit harder and be focused on the next play at all times. If we are fully engaged and just keep moving forward we will be good.”
Michael Woolfson can be reached at 860-801-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @Bigwoolf5