MERIDEN - The Southington Legion baseball team stormed Ceppa Field Tuesday night having clinched a spot in the final of the state tournament for the first time since 2013. It’s hard to imagine, considering the team’s struggles just a few short weeks ago.
Southington reached a low-point in its season on July 12 after a 12-2 mercy-rule loss to Meriden. It dropped Southington’s season record to 17-8 and gave the team a season-high three-game losing streak, during which Southington was outscored 25-2.
But even then, Southington head coach Marc Verderame knew his team still had a chance to make things happen in the postseason.
“Between [Meriden] and the Middletown game, we got mercied twice in three games,” Verderame said. “I told the guys ‘hey, everyone is giving up on us. A lot of you guys are going to college, never going to play for us again. This is it. You’re going to remember these moments the rest of your lives. Let’s go on a run.’”
Verderame’s message was one the players took to heart, feeling as if there was something to prove.
“[Verderame] made it clear that our goal - winning a state championship - was still there,” pitcher Ryan Sheehan said. “We knew we had a game against Cheshire that week, which gave us a chance to prove ourselves. We wanted to come into the state tournament on a run. But I think our biggest thing is that we’ve played for each other and as a team. We haven’t given up on ourselves, even if everyone else did.”
Jeremy Mercier was the hero in the final of the Super Regionals, hitting a grand slam in the 13th inning to help seal the win. He said the team’s focus was a key part to its late-season run.
“We just kept looking ahead,” Mercier said. “We knew we could still hit our groove and we did. And since then, we’ve been riding this high and hopefully it keeps going a couple more games.”
Since that loss to Meriden, Southington has gone 9-1 and played what Verderame sees as the team’s best ball of the season. He calls the Meriden game a “pivotal moment” in the team’s season.
“That was just one of those ‘come to Jesus’ moments,” Verderame said. “The season really could have went either way. But after that, we beat Guilford twice. Then we beat Cheshire in the last game of the regular season. That game didn’t mean anything, but I think it was our most important game of the season because we proved to ourselves and to everyone else we could play with the best of the best.”
Southington also beat Cheshire twice in the Super Regionals, both by shutouts. The team is now just two wins away from hoisting the state championship trophy. The players were reluctant to look ahead, but Mercier understands the importance of what a championship would mean for the team and the town.”
“It would just be one of those moments you can’t really describe,” Mercier said. “You feel it, but there are no real words for it. That’s what we’re chasing.”
Regardless of whether Southington wins the state championship or not, its success dates back to that loss in mid-July.
“I think that game [against Meriden] just helped us develop this heart - this anger - for success,” Verderame said. “Everybody wrote us off. Now here we are, going to play for a state championship. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.””
Tyler Roaix can be reached at email@example.com