SOUTHINGTON - The Southington American Legion baseball team knows a thing or two about playing in big games.
“We have some playoff experience, that’s for sure,” first baseman Brayden Cooney said after Southington’s first game against Trumbull in the Pod E finale of the state regional tournament.
Based on the team’s roster, it’s not hard to see why. Of Southington’s 18 players, just four will still be in high school in the fall. Four college players and 10 graduated seniors make up the rest of the team.
Cooney is one of those college players. He currently goes to UConn-Avery Point, and not only sees the team’s experience as a bonus, but also the town’s tradition of success.
“In high school, in the Legion season, we are always deep in the postseason,” Cooney said.
One of the few high school juniors on the team is pitcher Ryan Henderson, who was one of Southington’s most prominent pitchers this season. He started the first game Wednesday against Trumbull with a chance to clinch a spot among the final eight teams in the super regionals and knows how valuable having the veteran experience can be.
“They know what’s coming,” Henderson said. “They know the pitching. They know the hitters. They know how to get ready for the big games. They’ll tell you everything. I just learn from that. They tell us all the time to just come out and play as hard as we can. I learn as I go and they definitely help in that.”
Leaning on the veterans has clearly paid off for Henderson. In Wednesday’s start, he gave up just one run on seven hits in seven innings of play.
But Trumbull scored two runs off of eliever Nick Borkowski, leading to a 3-1 loss for Southington and forcing a win-or-go-home game Thursday night, which Southington easily won 7-2 to win Pod E.
With its trip to the super regionals now secure, Southington is chasing its first state championship since 1993. The closest it has come since was 2013, when it lost in the title game to Branford.
“We have always made [postseason] runs,” Cooney said. “That’s what it means to play for Southington. We battle and we don’t give up. We haven’t been able to finish the run yet and haven’t reached our goal. But we think this year is different. We’re down here on off days, taking swings in the cages. We want it. We want it more than anyone else.”
For head coach Marc Verderame, he knows this Southington squad is unlike any other. He does, after all, have the veterans to rely on.
“We’re a group with a lot of fight, but have some [young] guys who have been through this before,” Verderame said. “We aren’t going to stop until the last out.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at email@example.com