This week, the Seymour softball team will attempt to win its 15th Naugatuck Valley League tournament championship. Then the Wildcats (19-1) will then embark on what’s expected to be a lengthy state tournament run in Class M.
Seymour, one of the state’s most dominant programs, is accustomed to postseason success. The Wildcats have made 15 state championship game appearances and have won eight state titles.
Part of that success can be attributed to a youth program that has produced countless future Seymour High standouts. Even with the advent of travel teams that play year round, Little League softball remains an instrumental force in developing young talent.
“Well, it’s very important that they get a good base,” Seymour High coach Ken Pereiras said. “That starts in Little League. Bob Lang runs our Little League, and he does a great job of getting coaches that teach the game. Usually every year we run a clinic for the coaches so they get some ideas, and they go back and use what we’ve given them.”
Seymour senior second baseman Katie Petroski, who will play at the University of Pennsylvania next season, credits the Seymour youth program for turning her into the player she is today.
“(Playing Little League) was huge,” Petroski said. “He (Lang) really develops the players at a really young age. I started with Mr. Lang, and I definitely owe everything to him. He developed a love for the game, and he taught us the right way to play it and how to win at that age.”
Specifically, Petroski noted how she learned the importance of bunting, how to run the bases, and being a member of a team when she started playing in the Seymour system at 9 years old.
“It was just those little things that are so important,” Petroski said.
Petroski was a member of several all-star teams during her youth career, which she said prepared her for the postseason when arriving at Seymour High.
“Those kinds of tournaments (all-stars), if you lose, you go home, so that’s like the state tournament,” Petroski said. “If you don’t win, you can’t move on. I think it helped learning that at a young age.”
Other programs, like Amity and Waterford, have reaped the benefits of successful youth teams.
In 2006, Waterford South Little League defeated Seymour for the state championship. Waterford South repeated as state champions the next year, this time by defeating Orange — comprised mostly of future Amity players — before advancing all the way to the World Series. Kelli Connors was a member of Waterford South both years. Connors would later lead Waterford to state titles as a freshman and sophomore. Amity and Waterford have combined to win nine CIAC state titles.
Waterford High coach Liz Sutman believes Little League has several benefits.
“The bottom line is: they’re playing all together in Little League,” Sutman said. “That’s kind of countered travel ball, where you can get kids from all different towns. Our kids have stayed together, and I think that’s made for better chemistry in high school. You would be a fool to think it (success at the high school level) wasn’t because of it (the youth program).”
Sutman fondly remembers watching Connors’ Waterford South teams compete at the World Series. Sutman’s sons now play in the same youth system.
“When you go to the field, you see the banners and the names, and I love it,” Sutman said. “Those teams are a part of the town’s sports lore. It’s important to have a sense of pride in your town, and our kids have stayed together; it’s still keeping the town together.”
Sutman noted that most of the current Fitch roster is made up of athletes that played in the successful Mystic Little League system. The Falcons completed the regular season at 20-0.
Pereiras said that around 80 percent of his team plays some form of travel ball, but that the majority also came through the Little League program.
Seymour sophomore pitcher Raeanne Geffert played both.
“Little League is so important,” Geffert said. “The fundamentals are what gets you through the game. Seymour, especially, prepares you for that.”
Geffert believes interest in Little League is still growing.
“We actually went out and we volunteered for the rec league a couple of weeks ago and there was a very big turnout,” she said. “It was really exciting.”