SOUTHINGTON - Following the Southington American Legion baseball teamâ€™s 5-3 loss to Cumberland, Rhode Island in the Northeast Regional Tournament, the mood in the locker room was a somber one. Part of it may have been due to the narrow defeat, but the majority of the collective sadness stemmed from the realization that Southingtonâ€™s core had just experienced its last ride on the diamond together.
â€śThere was a little frustration with losing, but I think the majority of it was a sentiment I shared, which was just sadness that the season was over,â€ť head coach Marc Verderame said. â€śOur run together and playing together was over. For a lot of these kids, their baseball career is over. They're going on into the real world and off to college and not playing baseball. They're going to focus on academics. We had about five or six kids from last year who knew this was their last shot and now it's kind of over. People can be romantic about baseball and there's something nostalgic about playing your last game with your brothers. There was a lot of emotion in the locker room, as you could imagine.â€ť
Despite the disappointment, Verderame and the Southington team was still able to take a step back and realize what the group had accomplished over the past two seasons, which included a state championship in 2018, and another championship appearance and another win at the regional level this summer before falling to Rhode Island.
â€śIt's extremely important to the program, what we did,â€ť Verderame said. â€śNot many teams have gone to back-to-back regionals in the history of Legion baseball. I'm proud of these guys. A lot of them were on this team when we won only 10 games and we came together as a team, ran that gauntlet and won the state championship last year and finished second this year.Â It's the end of an era. It's been a great era and they have a lot to be proud of.â€ť
The programâ€™s impressive success over the past two seasons leaves Southington especially prideful given the state of the program just a few short seasons ago, when a trip to back-to-back state championships seemed like a pipe dream.
â€śThere was a time when all of this seemed impossible,â€ť Verderame said. â€śFour years ago, we won only five games and it really wasn't going well. But we put together the hard work and had a vision and a lot of the guys on the team last year were on that five-win team.â€ť
After that five-win season came 10 wins, then a state title and finally a state finalist and another chance in the regional tournament. Most of the core that made this yearâ€™s run was there for the underwhelming 10-win campaigns, but continued to build experience and team chemistry that resulted in the success of the past two years, even if the talent level didnâ€™t seem to change as drastically as the teamâ€™s fortunes.
â€śThey played together as well as any team I've ever coached,â€ť Verderame said. â€śIt was a good baseball team, but we weren't really better than a lot of other teams around, like Cheshire. But I think the way they played for each other and believed in each other was just tremendous. I think that's why we won as many games as we did.â€ť
Just as Southingtonâ€™s rebuild came to a satisfying finish, another one awaits. This yearâ€™s team almost all said its goodbye to competitive baseball in Southington after the loss to Cumberland, and only one member of this yearâ€™s roster (Ethan McDonough) has another year of high school remaining. Eight members of the team graduated in 2018 and wonâ€™t be back for another year of Legion. For as difficult as the most recent rebuild was, Verderame and Southington will have to prepare for a similar reload once again.
â€śIt's going to be difficult,â€ť Verderame said. â€śWe're rebuilding. All of these guys are leaving and we have to restart. I've been doing this for 12 years and we've been in this position before, but I'm going to miss these guys. It was more than baseball. It was a brotherhood. We won a championship together and we'll be together forever in that nature. It will be tough to leave that and restart. We'll have a couple of guys back next year, but we'll probably have 15 new players next year. It's a total rebuild and that's tough.â€ť
Verderame might be effectively starting over, but this rebuild will come on a much stronger foundation than last time. Armed with two straight state championship appearances, Verderame has recent evidence to attract the next wave of players who can bring Southington back to where the departing core brought the program.
â€śI think winning the state championship and getting back to the regional tournament this year lays the framework for what I think we can do,â€ť Verderame said. â€śWe've done it before and once you've done it, you can do it again. We have a lot of talent coming up the ranks and I think with the success we've had, we can pull that talent into Legion baseball in Southington.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org