SOUTHINGTON - The Southington baseball team already had a cozy 6-1 lead in the sixth inning when head coach Charles Lembo began playing chess with his lineup, sending in pinch hitters for his bottom three spots in the batting order, while getting two different relievers some work on the mound.
This is the norm for a team with a big lead and the game is seemingly in hand, but for Lembo and the Blue Knights, the consistent interchanging serves another purpose that reflects an enviable commodity: Southington is just that deep of a team.
“I was happy I was able to get Vinny [Spizzouco] and Nico [Gaudio] an inning,” Lembo said of his pitching changes after the 8-1 win over Berlin on Tuesday. “That’s what we want to do as a team, because all these guys can contribute.”
Less than a week before the season began, Lembo still wasn’t set on his starting lineup or full varsity roster. It was a predicament one would likely describe as a “good problem,” since Lembo seemingly had too many capable names to choose from. But by the time the offseason ended, Lembo decided it was best to carry extra arms so he could get a look at all of his qualified pitchers at the varsity level.
The team’s depth was on display before meaningful games ever began. Back on March 25, the Blue Knights scrimmaged and beat Cheshire, the defending Class LL state champs who figure to be right back in the title race later this spring. Scrimmages are usually an opportunity to test an entire roster out in game action, which played right into the hands of Lembo’s current strategy, as he showcased his deep roster in a tease of what was to come.
The only concern for Lembo is to make sure his players who are subbed out understand that it’s not a punishment. He just has too much talent that deserves a look.
“That’s what we’ve been preaching,” Lembo said. “We may take you out of a game, and it’s not because you did anything wrong, we just have guys we want to get in there and see what they can do. We’re confident we can put any name on our roster or lineup card and feel confident about it.”
Lembo’s group understands the situation and takes no issue with the crowded group of potential contributors, considering every one of them has had a hand in the team’s 3-0 start to the season, with Tuesday’s win coming against a 4-0 Redcoats squad.
“We have a lot of spots that we can interchange no problem, especially with our pitching depth,” starting pitcher Jake Neuman said after twirling a one-hit shutout through five innings on Tuesday. “We have guys that can come in and get out of jams, and that’s nice to have.”
The lineup provides more of the same consistency. Tyler Strong, Lembo’s first pinch hitter of the afternoon on Tuesday, stroked a two-run single to put Southington in front 8-1 and maintain his spot on a long list of potent bats in the Blue Knights’ dugout.
“It helps a lot,” outfielder Jack Meade said of the team’s depth after his three-hit performance. “We have a lot of kids, any that can go into any position and get the job done.”
Southington’s long list of producing players might make for tough decisions for Lembo, but for him, it’s much better to have a tough decision than no decision. As long as the Blue Knights keep winning, he’ll gladly accept the added work of making sure everyone gets their deserved playing time.
“We have guys swinging the bat up and down the lineup, and I like our pitching,” Lembo said. “We can throw any of our 10 guys out there and I’d feel confident with them on the mound. I like where we’re at right now.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com