Four years ago the Southern Connecticut Conference knew it had a very good group of young baseball players coming to the varsity level who would contribute quickly.
Fast forward to this season. Those players are now seniors, many who are Division I prospects and a select few who will get consideration for the upcoming Major League Baseball draft.
“The SCC is loaded every year with talent, so there have been competitive classes, but this one is right up there at the top,” Xavier coach Nick Cerreta said. “There is no doubt about it.”
The group is close, having played against each other for over three years at the high school level and played with, or against each other in travel baseball. They monitor how each other are playing and use that for motivation.
“We see them have a great game and it pushes us to have a great game,” Amity center fielder Julian “JuJu” Stevens said.
The group lost their junior year to the COVID-19 pandemic. They cherish the opportunities to play as seniors.
Here is a closer look at some of the top players in the SCC Class of 2021.
Anthony DePino, Hand, 3B
On the first day of tryouts before the 2019 season, Hand coach Travis LaPointe told players to run out to a position they thought they would play.
“Nobody went to third base,” LaPointe said. “They understood that (DePino) was the third baseman and that they couldn’t compete with him.”
DePino, a University of Rhode Island commit, fit nicely in the middle of the lineup on a team with Phoenix Billings and Julian Banerji.
While the success eventually came at the varsity level, DePino remembers struggling early in the season.
“My first game as a sophomore I came out and struck out three times and went 0-for-4,” he said. “I was really down on myself.”
LaPointe told him to focus on fielding, the hitting would come.
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) May 30, 2019
It did a couple of games later against Fairfield Prep.
DePino went 4-for-4 and hit a home run in his first at bat of the game.
“That’s when it really clicked.”
DePino was named to the All-Oronoque team in the SCC after that season.
LaPointe said what he loves about DePino is his confidence from the first day he stepped on the field.
“He plays the game with a certain attitude and swagger that I adore,” he said.
Sebastian Holt, Amity, 1B
From the day Holt showed up at his first Amity baseball workout, coach Sal Coppola knew he had a guy who could play with the varsity.
“He showed that he could put the bat on the ball and wasn’t intimidated by varsity pitching,” the longtime coach said.
Holt, a University of Maine commit, joined a team coming off five straight Class LL championship game appearances and included the likes of Pat Winkel, Jack Nolan, Ben Lodewick and John Lumpinski.
Holt was inserted at the designated hitter spot and had to learn to do the little things to help the team win.
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) May 25, 2019
“I knew my place, I knew I wouldn’t play over (Jack) Nolan, he was a stud,” Holt said. “I knew where I could help out, find my spot and do what I can do.”
That was an adjustment for Holt, who was used to hitting in the middle of the lineup for every team he played on before.
“I had to fit a role, I had to lay down a few bunts and move guys over,” he said. “It wasn’t just hit doubles and get RBIs.”
He helped Amity reach the semifinals during that 2018 season and then again in 2019, that year with an expanded role in the field and a spot in the middle of the lineup.
Luke Lappe, Xavier, 1B
The senior first baseman for the Falcons played sparingly with the varsity as a freshman, but it wasn’t until his sophomore season where he took center stage.
The North Alabama commit started every game and led the team in RBIs. He was named to the All-Quinnipiac team in the SCC.
It was Lappe’s knowledge of the game that stood out immediately to his coach and earned him a spot in the lineup, something he has not relinquished.
“He understands the game of baseball,” Cerreta said. “He knows the game inside and out.”
Looking around the league, Lappe said he has enjoyed playing against other top players and it keeps him on his toes.
“The competition gets better every year and all I can do is work hard and keep up with the talent around me,” he said.
Three years ago, Hamden coach Chris Borelli did something he only remembered doing once as a coach — start a freshman. In fact, he did it twice.
Pisano, now a senior center fielder and classmate Max Gross both started in some capacity for the Green Dragons as freshmen.
Pisano exploded onto the scene, while playing center field and some shortstop. He led the team with 25 hits and batted .342, but it was his size and attitude that stood out to Borelll.
“When he came here, he was a man-child,” Borrelli said of his 6-foot-3 senior. “He was supremely confident from day one.”
Borelli saw his confidence on display when they played Amity.
Pisano tried to steal a base on Amity’s Winkel, who was drafted out of high school and is the starting catcher for UConn.
“He wanted to test everybody, he didn’t care who you were,” Borelli said.
Pisano was thrown out — though he still claims he was safe.
“I am the biggest fan of Pat Winkel, but I saw an opportunity,” he said. “To play at this level you need the level of confidence that ‘I deserve to be here,’” he said. “If you’re not confident enough that you can compete with these guys, you’re not going to be able to.”
As a sophomore, he batted .304 and led the team with two home runs.
“Physically I was far beyond my years, but freshman and sophomore year I wasn’t mentally there,” he said. “Yeah, I would get hits, but mentally I didn’t understand the small things, the work ethic, getting in the in the gym. The things that make a player great.”
He was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat last year and wasn’t cleared to play any sports until January. He missed out on a crucial recruiting year and will play at Westminster next season in a postgraduate year.
Ryan Scialabba, Cheshire, SS
In 2018, Cheshire won the Class LL state title and was voted the No. 1 team in the state behind a senior heavy team.
The next season there were holes in the Rams’ infield.
The senior shortstop grew up around the Cheshire baseball program. His dad Steve Scialabba was an assistant coach when Ryan was younger and is back as an assistant coach this year.
Scialabba, who will be playing at Division II St. Anselm College next year, spent his youth in the dugout watching how Ram players carried themselves and how they played the game.
“He’s a sponge, he absorbed everything,” Cheshire coach Mike Lussier said.
Lussier was a longtime assistant coach for the Rams, before taking over the program in 2019 and one of his first big decisions was putting Scialabba in the lineup as a sophomore.
The shortstop did not disappoint.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) May 29, 2019
He hit .386 with 27 hits and 11 RBIs and was the lone sophomore named to the New Haven Register All-Area team. He was also named to the All-Quinnipiac team for the SCC.
“It’s a really competitive conference, it’s the best baseball conference in the state,” Scialabba said. “It’s not often you see a class like this with so many guys that are really good. It makes you excited to play against them.”
He helped lead the Rams to a 25-2 record, the SCC championship and an appearance in the Class LL semifinals.
Scialabba credits watching the team win the state title his freshman year as one of the most impactful seasons of his baseball career.
“That what was one of the most fun times I have ever had playing baseball,” he said. “I learned so much about baseball, not only how to act, but how to compete.”
Anthony Steele, Shelton, P/1B
Standing at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Steele is one of the most imposing players in the SCC and the state.
“He’s just physically bigger and stronger than everybody,” Shelton coach Scott Gura said.
It was on the mound where Steele put the SCC on notice when he no-hit West Haven during his sophomore year.
“He never felt the moment was bigger than him,” Gura said. “He was able to handle any pressure.”
The transition to varsity baseball wasn’t a physical problem for Steele, but it was mentally for the Penn State commit.
Steele said the first thing he remembered about playing varsity baseball was that it was a very fast game. He said he had to keep reminding himself to slow down the game.
“On the mound if I gave up a hit or a walk, I had to step off the mound and say to myself take your time, you have prepared for these moments,” he said.
Steele’s lefty swing changes the game.
“We saw it immediately, how the ball popped off of his bat,” Gura said.
He batted over .300 in 2019 and was named to the All-Oronoque team for the SCC.
Stevens started his freshman year on the junior varsity team and when Coppola watched he couldn’t help but notice his talent level.
“He was hitting the cover off of the ball,” Coppola said.
The Spartans were struggling at the top of their lineup and Coppola decided to give his then-freshman a shot.
By the end of his freshman year, Stevens was leading off for Amity as the team reached the Class LL semifinals.
Stevens credits the chemistry in the Spartans program for making the transition to varsity baseball at a young age a lot easier.
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) June 4, 2019
“They do a great job of building a sense of community here,” Stevens said. “(They made us feel that) you are a part of the team. From the offseason until the season, I think we all thought we had a chance to contribute, so we just kept working hard for our chance.”
As a sophomore, the University of Missouri commit continued to excel. He was named to the All-Housatonic team for the SCC and helped lead the Spartans to the Class LL semifinals once again.
He hit .348 with six home runs and 36 RBIs with 12 doubles and 27 runs scored.
“Every spot we put him in, he continued to say he could do it,” Coppola said.