WOODBRIDGE — Over the last decade, the Amity Spartans have relied on a new ace almost every season and every season that pitcher has stepped up to lead the team to a deep playoff run.
Five straight seasons the Spartans have made it to at least the Class LL semifinals and before last season the team went to four straight LL championship games, winning three in a row.
It was Mike Concato in 2013, Nick Fusco in 2014, Eli Oliphant led the staff in 2015 and 2016, Max Scheps in 2017, last year it was Ben Lodewick and this season it’s John Lumpinski.
“He’s a strong kid and I think part of it is the torch has been passed and he saw how previous guys handled it and I think it has been modeled well for him,” Amity coach Sal Coppola said. “He has handled it well and he has accepted that role and has enjoyed it so far.”
This season Lumpinski is 5-0 with four complete-game shutouts and only recently allowed his first earned runs of the season. He has helped the Spartans go 11-2 on the season. They are currently ranked at No. 3 in the latest GameTimeCT.com poll.
From his first season on varsity, his sophomore year, Lumpinski has been called on to pitch in big spots.
He closed out the SCC championship game in 2017 and pitched during the LL championship that year. His junior year he came in to shut the door in the LL quarterfinals and then threw seven innings of one run ball against Ridgefield in the semifinals.
Though the Spartans lost to Ridgefield in extra innings, the last two years had solidified Lumpinski as their go to guy.
“He’s proved that he can handle the situations,” Coppola said. “He’s been a big game guy.”
The Siena baseball commit credits being around Sheps and Lodewick as the reason why has pitched so well during his career.
“I became really close friends with (Sheps). He would drive me to practice and home,” Lumpinski said. “I learned a lot from him my sophomore year. I would follow him during practice, I would watch his bullpens.
“Lodewick is one of my best friends, we talk all the time still. We always were hanging out together and they really helped me become the player and person I am today.”
Despite a successful junior year, Lumpinski worked hard in the offseason to get his curveball to be his out pitch.
“I fiddled around with grips a lot in the Spring with coach (Coppola) and by the time the Summer came it was getting a lot more consistent,” he said. “I am getting a lot more strikeouts with it and throwing it more for strikes.”
The curveball has made his four pitch repertoire something that has left opponents baffled in the box. On opening day, Lumpinski shut out defending state champion and top-ranked Cheshire.
“It’s really devastating because he throws it very hard, so it’s deceptive and then it has a sharp break to it,” sophomore catcher Jacob Crow said. “He sets up hitters with a fastball or a changeup and then he throws that off of it and they can’t react to it. So it’s either weak contact or a swing and miss.”
With Lumpinski leading the way on the mound and some new and familiar faces stepping up, the Spartans are right back in the thick of things in the SCC and Class LL.
How has Coppola and company been able to withstand the graduations of top players and still compete every season?
“We have good returning players and they work really hard,” he said. “I guess it’s a combination of things. History of the program, I think the kids from our (little) leagues come up wanting — really bad — to participate in Amity baseball.
“Part of it is the culture on the team that breeds hard work. It’s nice having the same staff that I have had for the last 15 years. I’m lucky to have them.”
Players like senior shortstop Sebastian Formica and outfielder Cole Kuchachik along with sophomore centerfielder Julian Stevens are back for the Spartans. They are joined by sophomore first baseman Sebastian Holt and sophomore catchers Crow and Jack Ranani, who have helped the Spartans stay atop the state. Ranani also doubles as a starting pitcher for the Spartans.
“This year we have a lot of hard working players who love the game of baseball,” Formica said.
How have they replaced Pat Winkel?
Winkel might be the best player to ever wear the Spartans uniform. Last year’s GameTimeCT State Player of the Year was drafted in the 31st round of the MLB Draft by the New York Yankees and could have gone earlier if he wasn’t committed to play at UConn.
As a senior he hit .493 with six home runs, 21 RBIs and a school-record 34 hits. He left the school with 14 career home runs and 112 RBIs.
This season as a freshman in Storrs, Winkel has started in 29 games and is batting .262 with three home runs and 18 RBIs.
His impact in the lineup is something that the Spartans have used the whole team to try and fill.
“It’s hard to fill those shoes,” Coppola said. “I wouldn’t say it is one person that filled in his shoes. I think we have had a pretty good approach from the whole team.
“Guys are stepping up who weren’t impact players for us last year. It’s been a team effort stepping up.”
His impact behind the plate is something that has been filled by Crow, who has caught the majority of the games for the Spartans. He is joined by Ranani, when he is not pitching.
“Crow has thrown out probably three-quarters of the guys who have stolen on him,” Coppola said. “We are psyched about how they have done, they are tough shoes to fill and near impossible.”
For the sophomore he isn’t trying to replace Winkel, because even he admits it’s not an easy task.
“First, I try not to think about that,” Crow said. “Obviously no one is going to be able to replace what he did. I am just doing what the team needs, making the strikes look good and keeping the ball in front.”