WATERBURY – When discussing the top baseball leagues across the state the conversation starts with the SCC, FCIAC, SWC and the ECC.
Many forget the NVL. But in the last two seasons alone, the NVL has won three of the eight state titles.
“I think the league is very strong and it really prepares you for the state tournament,” Holy Cross head coach Mike Phelan said. “I am happy that every game we are seeing a good pitcher. It makes us better and we are fortunate to play against these good teams.”
Phelan and his Crusaders are not only the defending Class S state champions but also the reigning NVL champions. Two seasons ago both Wolcott (Class M) and St. Paul (Class S) took home state championships.
This year, the Crusaders are led by the big arm of all-state senior Fran Phelan, who also plays shortstop, and a ton of junior talent like Tim Zupkus, Brian Parzyck, Connor Goggin and Austin Brown. They have helped the Crusaders to a blistering 9-1 (9-0 in NVL) start. They were 9-0 until Monday’s 5-3 non-conference loss to Montville.
Holy Cross’ Fran Phelan gets the Crusaders on the board with a 2-out 2-run single in the bottom of the 5th
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) April 20, 2018
Regardless of the Crusaders’ hot start, coach Phelan believes that any team that gets in the NVL tournament can win the league.
“I say this every year, especially this year,” he said. “When we have the top eight teams in the NVL tournament No. 1 can certainly lose to No. 8 because our league is that deep.”
The league is as deep as Phelan says it is.
Including Holy Cross, the NVL already has five teams with eight or more wins at the midway mark of the season.
“But it’s a very competitive league,” Ansonia coach Pat Lynch said earlier this year. “There are eight, nine, 10 teams that could probably win the league. So every day is a battle. We just want to compete daily and make the team we’re playing have to earn all 21 outs.”
As of Wednesday, Wolcott and Holy Cross sit atop the league at 9-0. St. Paul, whose only loss is to Naugatuck, is 9-1. Both Seymour and Woodland are 8-2.
Right there, those could be the top five seeds of the league tournament.
Wolcott is playing complete baseball right now as the season hits the midway point. The Eagles are scoring a ton of runs – 10.2 runs-per-game – led by junior Jack Drewry and catcher Jeff Nicol. The Eagles’ pitching staff is also keeping opponents off the board, allowing just 3.1 runs-a-game.
Then there is sophomore Julian Thayer whose bat is one of the main reasons St. Paul is in the midst of an eight game win-streak. His two home runs spurred the Falcons’ 11-6 win over then No. 2 St. Joseph.
For Woodland, juniors Zack Bedryzuk and Justin Buttersworth have helped the Hawks jump out to their fast start.
“There are so many good players (in the league),” Sacred Heart coach Eric O’Toole said.
Senior-heavy Watertown (5-3), led by the arms of senior Dom Rinaldi and sophomore Steven Phillips and all-state senior shortstop Justin Guerrera, isn’t an easy out.
— Robert Johnston (@rjohnston30) April 20, 2018
Neither is Ansonia (5-5) with junior Ricky Torres on the hill and Sacred Heart (5-5) when it is throwing sophomore Hector Alejandro. Even Oxford at 5-6 and Torrington, with Cam Cerruto, at 4-5 could possess a threat come the postseason.
As the second half of the season progress and the seeds for the NVL tournament are figured out. There is one thing that almost every coach agrees on: It’s anybody’s game.
“There are a lot of good competitive teams,” O’Toole said. “A lot of good competitive games, so you have to be on your toes every day.”