Regular seasons have wrapped up and state tournament play is underway, meaning local teams are going to be asking for big performances from key contributors in order to keep seasons alive.
One local team received just that over the weekend to move on in the state tournament, while another appears to be in good hands for its upcoming state tournament game thanks to previous clutch play from a usual suspect.
New Britain’s Nigel Crundwell and Southington’s Chrissy Marotto are this week’s Athletes of the Week for their ability to step up in big spots for their respective squads.
Down 2-0 to Hamden in the bottom of the sixth in the qualifying round of the Class LL state tournament, the New Britain baseball team needed someone to come up clutch and keep the Hurricanes’ season alive. Many would have figured one of the more established, composed upperclassmen would be best suited for the task, but head coach Roberto Mercado knew that any one of his plethora of underclassmen would be just as capable to shrug off the pressure and come through in a big way, including his sophomore Crundwell.
“Everyone expects the older guys to come through, and we tell the guys to stay within themselves and not try to do too much,” Mercado said. “It's a next man up mentality, knowing that anyone can come up with the big hit.”
It was Crundwell who came up with not one, but two big hits on Saturday afternoon, tying the game with a single in the sixth to help send the do-or-die game to extra innings, where he came through again with a single down the third base line to score Justin Adorno and win the game for New Britain in eight innings. The dugout emptied and rushed Crundwell near first base as Beehive Stadium erupted in pandemonium, celebrating a state tournament win for the Hurricanes thanks to their sophomore who showed a senior’s poise.
“He's very calm and even-keeled,” Mercado said. “After the big hit in the sixth to tie the game, he was obviously all amped up. He's had confidence in himself and he got the job done. I'm very proud of him.”
Crundwell’s game-winning single came with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and two strikes in the count, but Crundwell dug in and delivered the biggest hit of the season for New Britain, who secured a trip to Southington in Tuesday’s first round matchup with the Blue Knights.
“It was pretty wild,” Mercado said. “He came through with the big hit. It’s different in the state tournament, but our guys came through.”
Of course, Crundwell’s heroics were no surprise to Mercado, who has watched his young core blossom in a season that has been about growth, and that growth was on display with Crundwell in the batter’s box on Saturday.
“It was huge,” Mercado said. “It's just about gaining more experience at the varsity level. Guys like Nigel have grown quickly and done a good job for us.”
The Southington softball team avoided a qualifying round in its state tournament thanks to a dominant 17-3 record, helped by its reliable infielder in Marotto, who has consistently been at the forefront of every win for the Blue Knights this season.
After a dominant junior campaign that resulted in an all-conference selection and 27 RBI from the leadoff spot in the order, Marotto has picked up right where she left off, providing a steady bat at the top of the order and coming through in clutch situations like Crundwell for New Britain.
May 14 was a huge game for Southington, which hosted Newington in what could be a state tournament matchup if both the Blue Knights and Indians secure first round wins today. In a potential preview, the two teams battled into extra innings before Marotto slapped a hard single to left field to score Makena Dlugos and give Southington a thrilling 9-8 win in nine innings. It was Marotto’s second hit of the game, and the senior also added a walk and a pair of stolen bases to help the Blue Knights secure a statement win.
Southington won in extras again two days later against Hall, where Marotto pitched in a hit, an RBI and a run scored. She picked up another three hits in a win against Windsor, helping her batting average improve to .493 by the end of the regular season, good for the third-best mark on the team in batters who played in at least 10 games for the Blue Knights this season. Marotto also scored 30 times and drove in 22 runs for the year.
Marotto also enjoyed a memorable day off the field last week when she celebrated her commitment to play softball at Endicott next season, where she will be joined by teammate Gabriela Verderame-Malachowski.
Before Marotto heads toward the next step in her journey, she’d like to bring a state championship to her current school. If she performs like she has in recent weeks, the sixth-seeded Blue Knights have a good shot to pull it off.