ANSONIA – Replacing a coach that won over 500 career games and reached four state championship games over a career is not an easy shadow to walk out from under, even if the man replacing him stands close to 6-foot-7.
That is the challenge that new Ansonia coach Pat Lynch accepted when he took over for his former coach, Mike Vacca, who retired last season after coaching the program for nearly five decades.
“I’m a tall guy but I’ll never be able to fill the shoes and the legacy he left here: 500-plus wins, 40-plus years with the program,” Lynch said.
“He started as the freshman coach and became head coach in, I believe, 1978 — basically the year I was born he took over the program. I’ll never be able to replace him. All I can do is hope to do half the job he did.”
Lynch is no stranger to the program. He pitched for Vacca and led the Chargers to the 1996 Class M state title game, a 5-3 loss to East Catholic. Lynch’s uncles also played for Ansonia. His uncle Billy led the Chargers to the 1974 Class M state title, a 8-4 win over East Lyme.
And, the name above the scoreboard in left field reads “Matthew F. “Pop” Shortell Field” … that’s Lynch’s grandfather.
“Ansonia has been a big part of my life,” Lynch said. “I am 39 years-old, I lived here my whole life.”
Lynch has been a part of the Chargers program in some capacity for 15 of the 17 years since he graduated.
Having an Ansonia guy running the program was important to Vacca who said when he retired in May.
“It’s very important to me that someone has the bloodlines of the program within them,” Vacca said then. “Three of our coaches in the dugout were former players of ours. They wore that uniform. It would be special if one of them could take over.”
Ansonia heeded his words and named Lynch as the next head coach soon afterward. And, keeping with tradition, of the five coaches helping Lynch in his first year, four of them are former Chargers.
“Not every kid is a life-long Ansonia person,” Lynch said. “They see the pride that guys who are a few years older than me and then a few years younger than me that are coming back to the same program that they are in now and are looking to give back.
“I’ve already had a couple of seniors say: Next year, I would love to come back and help. I think they are sensing the pride we have and I hope it resonates throughout the team and the town.”
Wins and losses aside, Lynch wants his players to be proud of the program that he has loved for the majority of his life.
“Just hard work and taking pride in the name on the front of the jersey,” he said. “Taking pride in representing your school, town, your family.”
SO FAR SO GOOD
The Chargers are off to a 2-2 start this season, with wins coming against Kolbe Cathedral and Wilby. Despite the two losses, the Chargers have been hot at the plate with 28 runs in the four games.
“Our hitting is a lot better this year than last,” Ansonia senior captain Cody Teodosio said. “Last year we didn’t hit the ball that well, but we are now.”
This year’s Chargers are inexperienced across the field, including the pitching staff and catcher, where freshman Matt Blackwell has earned the starting role. Sophomore twins Tyler and Garrett Cafaro form the middle of the lineup.
Junior Ricky Torres is the lone veteran returning to the pitching staff after winning three of the Chargers six games last year.
“We’re going to lean on him heavily,” Lynch said.
So far, Torres has been solid. In the season opener, he went six innings and struck out 11 batters. Against Wilby, he went the distance and struck out 12 batters.
After falling short of the postseason last year the goal of the Chargers is to make it back to the NVL and state tournaments.
“I think we’re in a good position to have a successful year,” Lynch said. “But it’s a very competitive league. 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.”