WORCESTER, Mass. - The Cinderella season for the Southington American Legion baseball team came to an end Saturday in the semifinals of the Northeast regionals.
After falling to Braintree, Mass., at Fitton Field Saturday, Southington had a bittersweet feeling about its season.
“It was kind of sad, but it was also happy,” Southington’s Jeremy Mercier said. “It was sad, obviously, because the season is over. But, looking back, we accomplished a lot. We won states. We made it [to regionals]. We won a couple games there. It was just a weird feeling for it to come to an end.”
Highlighting the team’s list of accomplishments was a state championship, the program’s first since 1993.
“It feels really good,” Mercier said. “Everyone was a big contributor to the team this year. Being a part of that makes it feel like you’re a part of something big. The town is proud of it because of all of us. We have a lot to look back on years from now and be happy about.”
It wasn’t the easiest road to the state title for Southington. They shared Zone 3 with Cheshire, one of the best teams in the state. They had to beat Cheshire twice in the playoffs, including a 13-inning marathon.
“We just never gave up,” Mercier said. “We really noticed it against Hamden [in the state regionals] when we came back to beat them. And [head coach Marc Verderame] was on us all year that if any team could get this done, it was us. We just never gave up. We never quit.”
Mercier led the way for Southington down the stretch. He hit two home runs in the state tournament, one coming on a grand slam against Cheshire in the semifinal and a solo shot against Ellington in the final. The senior was later named to the All-Tournament team.
“It felt like one of those ‘I can try to help my team in the best way possible’ [situations],” he said. “When it happens, you’re like ‘it’s over. It’s done. Let’s keep going.’ I just tried to keep getting the job done so we could keep winning.”
Southington was made up of players from four different high schools and four different colleges.
“For the most part, even the guys that came back from college and other places, most of us knew each other, besides maybe one or two,” Mercier said. “Even back in Little League, we all played with each other. From the beginning, we just clicked. We were always hanging out with the team and it was never like someone was left out.”
But while Southington proved its skill on the field, its secret weapon may have been Verderame and his coaching staff in the dugout. With a perfect balance of toughness and mentoring, Verderame knew what buttons to push to get the most out of his squad.
“It’s not like there’s all of this uptight stuff where it’s ‘do this or you’re going to get pulled,’” Mercier said. “It’s not strict, but [Verderame] also has his rules where, if you don’t follow them, he will make you pay for it. But it’s a fun environment where you’re there to have a good time, and you’re there to win. He’s a really nice guy and a great coach.”