SOUTHINGTON - The Southington baseball team came painfully close to an elusive state championship last spring, falling 3-0 to Staples in the Class LL title game for what was the team’s fourth state final loss in nine seasons.
With the disappointment of last year’s defeat came an understanding that the Blue Knights would have another chance at redemption and to finally overcome years of heartache to capture the program’s first championship since 1999. Aside from a few key senior contributors, Southington was bringing the bulk of its squad back for 2020 and had sights set on a return to Palmer Field, but this time leaving with a different outcome.
“Even in our weight room sessions this winter, we put in a lot of work to be prepared,” senior pitcher Jake Neuman said. “We want to get back to that state final and we want to win this time. We have almost all of our guys back in our lineup, so we're just working hard. It would suck if we did all that and it just got canceled.”
A potential cancellation would derail Southington’s chance to finally finish atop the state, and that possibility still lingers over all spring seasons. The CIAC announced last week that spring sports were indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak but not canceled, and the organization was willing to try any measures to make sure there would be a spring season in some form. That could change at any time, but the Blue Knights are hoping their hope, and the efforts of the CIAC, will be rewarded.
“This senior year was supposed to be our year,” Neuman said. “We've always been looking forward to it, so it would really suck if that was taken away.”
Neuman, an All-State selection last season after pitching to a microscopic 0.70 ERA, was helping make sure the team will be ready for the 2020 season, if and when it finally begins. Shortly after schools shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, Neuman and his teammates made the trek back to the high school to hold their own practices, operating in groups of eight to 10 players to take batting practice on the field while the rest shag fly balls in the outfield. Neuman has also been building up his arm strength for the season by tossing two bullpen sessions a week with other pitchers on the team.
Those batting practice sessions have since ceased after the latest statewide restrictions urging residents to avoid groups and stay home, but Neuman has continued his bullpen sessions and still hits in the cage when possible to continue his effort to be ready for the season, while satisfying public safety precautions.
“We just want to stay in shape and be ready because we have hope that we're going to have a season, especially after what the CIAC said on Wednesday,” Neuman, a CCSU commit, said. “We just want to stay sharp and not lose what we worked on all winter.”
Neuman typically throws his bullpens on Wednesdays and either Friday or Saturdays and currently sits at about 35-40 pitches per session. Batting practice, now in the cages only, usually takes place two or three times a week, resulting in an almost full workload.
“We're trying to keep it that way, especially because we'll be getting a late jump on the season,” Neuman said. “You gotta be prepared.”
Southington’s current reality is that its season in limbo and the team hopes that reality changes soon, before hopes of a return to the state final are wiped away. In the meantime, the Blue Knights can only continue to prepare for a season that will look a lot different than last year’s in terms of structure and start date, if it happens at all.
“We're definitely still worried it might change, but we're trying to stay positive and be hopeful that we'll be able to play,” Neuman said. “That's all we can do really. Everything else is out of our control.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com