During a nationally televised major-league game, one analyst said fans go to games to see offense. People pay to see players swing the bat and stockpile runs, he said.
That’s not the brand of baseball we’re seeing in the Shoreline Conference this season. Fans are being treated to a lot of strong pitching and really good defense (plus it’s on the house). The norm in the Shoreline at the midway point of the schedule? Lots of low-scoring games, and based on the evidence, pitching and defense likely will determine who wins the league tournament.
“One thing we’re comfortable with is playing in low-scoring, tight games,” said Cromwell coach Lew Pappariella, who’s led the Panthers to two straight Shoreline championships and three of the last four.
“We pride ourselves on pitching and defense, and in the postseason (last year) we seemed to be in a lot of one-run games. We try to do the little things well — base running, situational defense, smart defense, not walking hitters, winning the bunt game. We strive to do the little things well every time out, all the things that don’t show up in the newspaper but make a big difference in games. We can’t always rely on the bats.”
Haddam-Killingworth, a large-division Shoreline team, is the cream of the conference at 12-0, but the Cougars aren’t exactly blowing teams out. While four of their wins were by comfortable margins, the other eight look like this: 3-2, 3-2, 4-2, 4-2, 3-1, 2-0, 4-0, 4-2.
In a recent game against a young East Hampton squad, H-K found itself down 3-2 after five innings. Jared Reed had the Cougars missing and guessing. But the Bellringers’ right-hander tired. His exit opened the door for H-K to score 16 times in the last two frames. The rally was a relief for H-K and a lesson, too.
“It’s a reminder that we have to come in ready to play every game,” H-K junior Jon Civiello said. “Our record doesn’t mean we’re the best or that we think we can roll over any team. We’ve got play our best and we’ve got to hustle.”
Coginchaug (8-3) is in a group chasing the Cougars, but where could the Blue Devils be — three losses by a combined four runs — with some more offense? Cromwell (9-4 after Tuesday’s win over Portland) has lost two one-run games and two two-run games. Valley Regional, also 9-4, played in four straight one-run games before a blowout win over Creed/Hillhouse.
“In the first half (of the season), we wanted to manage our game and we’ve come out with a reasonable record,” Coginchaug coach Mark Basil said after Monday’s 5-1 win over East Hampton. “Everybody would like to go undefeated, but with each loss you try to take away something positive. You want to put yourself in a good position come the playoffs.”
Old Lyme, while 6-5 overall, is in the mix, too, with a 5-0 record against its small-division counterparts and has a step on Old Saybrook (8-2, 3-1 in the division). Against the large programs of Valley, H-K, Coginchaug and Morgan, Old Lyme lost by scores of 3-2, 4-1, 3-0 and 2-0. Not much offense to speak of, but the Wildcats’ opponents didn’t have much room for error, either.
H-K has the pitching depth to hold on in the race with Trevor Rydel, Jon Civiello, Owen Marcia and Alex Erskine among its starters. Cromwell has the senior leadership of Austin Roy, Jared Valentin, Noah Budzik, Zachary Lombardo, and the McCalebs — Donovan and Nicholas. Lombardo, Budzik and Roy were regulars on the 2016 team, and Valentin and Donovan McCaleb were starters for last year’s Shoreline champs.
Then there’s Coginchaug. The Blue Devils’ profile has been raised and they appear poised for a run now that senior pitcher/shortstop Luke Garofalo is eligible to play after transferring from Xavier. The lineup also includes veterans Cal Pitruzzello, MacGuire O’Sullivan and John John Jose.
With a four-game advantage in the loss column, H-K’s lead appears safe. This is the time for teams in contention for a Shoreline tournament berth to work out issues. But in the meantime, as Basil said, “Anybody, any time, can step up and win in our league.”