They started the season with three straight losses. While other teams were ready to pounce, only the Amity Spartans believed they could recover and make their typical run into the postseason.
Sunday afternoon at Palmer Field in Middletown was the culmination of what became an-us-against everyone else mentality as the Spartans won the Class LL state title with an 8-2 decision over Southington. The title was Amity’s second straight and fourth overall.
“I think for the coaches, this one is extra special,” Amity coach Sal Coppola said. “We were a work in progress all year. There were so many ups and downs and personal struggles of so many players before we started to play our best. We are so happy for this group.
“It is so important to have a coaching staff with experience. We, the coaches, have had bad starts before, but the kids hadn’t. One of our best teams we ever had started the season 1-4 before losing to NFA. It is not common for the kids. We had to settle down and start to get some wins. We wanted to get to .500 and go from there.”
The win in the title game for the Spartans was their fifth in a row since losing to Xavier in the Southern Connecticut Conference finals. While the Spartans did not take home the league title, the goal of a state championship was still at hand.
“The guys were disappointed,” Coppola said of the loss. “I have to think it bothered us. It was a really quiet ride home. Before the bus ride home, sometimes you get some kids joking around. Not on our team. They were upset. They did not want to lose that game. We were playing well.”
Coppola knew his squad would be in every game with the starting pitching of seniors Nick Fusco and Ross Weiner, junior Mike Appel, and senior Sebastian DiMauro in relief. Fusco and Weiner were stellar throughout the year and Appel was the jolt the Spartans needed when he returned from an injury to give the Spartans a third solid arm in the rotation.
“We had so many individuals in batting slumps,” Coppola said. “It was unusual. We had a lot of guys not playing their best at the middle point of the year.
“It was the pitchers which helped turn it around. Nick Fusco and Ross Weiner were not pitching well. Ross sat out a week and a half to rest and Nick was up and down. But, they came back and we could not have done it without them. They kept us in games. Mike Appel came in and bailed us out. He came in relief twice of Ross (Weiner) and won games. He also allowed Ross to get back to where he needed to be with the rest.”
DiMauro may have been the biggest key to the staff. With the trio of Fusco, Weiner and Appel providing a majority of the innings, DiMauro came on to close the door in the tight situations.
“He was incredible,” Coppola said of DiMauro. “Think about this. He pitched 17 games this year in a high school season. We played 28 games. He had six saves and never blew a save.
“He was a one inning guy basically. We went to him for two (championship game). He had a 0.83 earned run average. To me, that was also one of the biggest things with the pitching.”
Amity also received clutch hits in the two SCC victories, and in the five wins in the Class LL tournament, it was the timely hitting that was consistently there.
In the finals against Southington, senior Josh Sabitsky had three hits, junior Matt Ronai had two hits, and senior captains Jake Russo and Anthony Capozziello and junior Kyle Mattei each drove in a pair of runs.
“We felt like, honestly, everyone in our order, one through nine, could hit the ball well at the end of the year,” Coppola said. “Everyone was hitting well. We were swinging the bats well.”
The Spartans were so dominant in the postseason, they outscored their opponents by a staggering margin of 33-5. Amity shut out Glastonbury in the state quarterfinals and followed with the same effort against Simsbury in the semifinals.
“It was the pitching again coming through,” Coppola said. “We allowed five runs in five games. You could tell where the staff was. It was more than just the pitching as we got big hits, but the pitching took the lead and gave us confidence.”
On the road for the entire tournament, but playing with confidence, Amity started with a 6-1 victory in Danbury, then had to face top-seeded Fairfield Prep, which had already defeated the Spartans twice in the regular season.
Amity had no fears and easily defeated the Jesuits 9-2. Once the Spartans cleared the hurdle of beating the Jesuits, there was a feeling of not being stopped.
“I think that was the game,” Coppola said. “After Prep, we came back with Fusco and we knew we had a chance to make a run. It is because of our league. Our league is so tough. Outside of our league there are a lot of good teams, but we felt the league helped us.
“Plus, we played every game in the tournament on the road, going far. We had to play on the other team’s field and also, not only did we have to win close games, we had to hold them off as they got the final at bat. It was a tough road. That is why this is so special.”
The Spartans have been to the title game six times since 2003, also winning consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007.