HIGGANUM >> Four times Haddam-Killingworth baseball coach Mark Brookes has been to state championship games and each time has come back the runner-up. This Saturday at 7 p.m. at Palmer Field, one of the state’s winningest coaches with a career mark of 607 wins and 266 losses, makes trip No. 5 to a title game, this time against top-seed Rocky Hill for the Class M crown.
“Everybody knows the number of wins,” Brookes joked. “But I lost a lot of games, too.” H-K got to the title game with a thrilling 7-5, 13-inning semifinal win over Plainfield Tuesday.
“We knew it would be a very competitive game,” said Brookes. “But it was as long a game as I can remember, semifinal or otherwise.”
Did that game blow out his team’s pitching?
“I don’t think so,” said Brookes. “The way the tournament is set up we have three days off. If we had to play Friday, we would have been hurt. But with the extra day’s rest, I think we’ll be OK.”
Brookes will choose between Griffin Bremer (9-1) and Brian Moskey (9-2). He said he’s not sure who will start.
“I can’t definitely say today [Thursday],” said Brookes. “We’ll talk and decide, but Bremer bounces back pretty quickly. I would guess I’m leaning towards Bremer.”
Brookes, who will complete his 38th year at H-K Saturday, said his club’s offense starts with Moskey, the team’s shortstop when he’s not pitching. “I’m not in love with that combination [shortstop/pitcher] but it works for us,” he said.
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Moskey is the club’s leading hitter and has good power numbers with three home runs and 12 doubles. His double in the 13th won the semifinal game over Plainfield. Bremer, who plays right field when not pitching, is also a key offensive player with a plus .300 average and 15 RBIs.
“He didn’t hit as well in the second half,” said Brookes. “But now he is swinging the bat much better.”
Brookes also said his outfield of Anthony Marino in left, Luigi Fazzino is center, and Bremer/Brendan Centi in right has been a team strength. Centi plays when Bremer pitches and Brookes called him a “brilliant” outfielder.
Sophomore Trevor Mann has been a solid first baseman with 19 RBIs and he moves to short when Moskey pitches. Sophomore second baseman Ty Schuler is hitting better than .300 and had three hits in the semifinal game.
In a rarity, H-K starts a freshman catcher, Tyler Popp. “He got a few starts in the regular season, but has started our tournament games,” said Brookes, whose 11th-ranked team is 19-7 overall.
The third baseman, Tom Kostek, is rounding into shape after missing much of the season with a concussion.
“I was hitting ground balls in infield during pregame early in April,” said Brookes. “The ball took a bad hop and hit him right between the eyes. He was out for several weeks and he had to start all over again. He’s just beginning to play at the level we thought he could.”
Joe Aitken is the team’s designated hitter and Brookes said that he is a “tremendous” base-runner and has contributed offensively all season.
In No. 1 Rocky Hill – the only No. 1 team to make it to the championship game in the four classes – H-K will be facing a very good team. The Terriers had a regular season record of 18-2 (22-2 including the tourney) with wins over teams like Berlin in the season opener, Conard, and East Hartford in the Class M/L/LL Central Connecticut Conference.
Rocky Hill’s two losses were to E.O. Smith and South Windsor.
“I’m not sure that playing in the CCC is an advantage,” said Rocky Hill coach Chris Farrell. “But it is a very competitive league with a lot of very good coaches. You have to play every day.”
Like H-K, the Terriers had to play an extra-inning game in the semis, edging St. Joseph of the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, 1-0 to get to Saturday.
“We stayed in New Britain after our game and watched them play,” said Brookes. “They looked like a very strong team. I saw Tom Seaver [Rocky HIll’s No. 2] and I was impressed with him. Their ace is Spencer Bunting.”
“We haven’t decided who will start,” said Farrell, who was an assistant with Plainville when the Blue Devils beat H-K in the 2012 title game, 3-1. “Both pitched Tuesday as Seaver went 10 innings and Bunting went two.”
Farrell said that his team is led by its eight seniors.
“We have kids who have been with the program four years,” said Farrell, who is in his second season. “Our shortstop, Chris Bouchard, is a leader both offensively and defensively and my right fielder, Brandon Grover, is the same. Every single guy in the lineup from one through nine knows their job and the kids have done a great job.”
Rocky Hill’s other tourney wins were over Prince Tech (15-0), Ledyard (7-1), and North Branford (4-2 in eight innings).
H-K did not exactly play in a hum-drum league. The Shoreline Conference, while a Class M/S league, features widely respected programs like Cromwell, East Hampton and upstart Portland, which will be playing for the Class S title Saturday at noon at Palmer Field.
H-K defeated Ellis Tech (10-0), Weston (9-6) and East Catholic (6-0) before its epic battle with Plainfield.