WASHINGTON DEPOT — Forget robins. Forget the equinox.
The sure signs of spring are the clink of a high school bat and the smack of a glove.
The signs rang at Washington Depot’s Ted Alex Field Wednesday afternoon in a scrimmage between Torrington and Shepaug Valley in a preseason stretch run to Saturday openers for a few northwestern Connecticut teams, next week for most.
Nobody pays attention to the score of a scrimmage. It’s a look at your team and the league they represent — the NVL for Torrington, Berkshire League for Shepaug.
Torrington’s Adam Vanotti and Shepaug’s Chance Dutcher stood tall on the mound. Rangy Red Raider M.J. McGillicuddy lined a homer over the left field fence.
But that was just marvelous background music for serious talk about the short season ahead, along with possibilities for a final snowstorm.
What’s going to keep Shepaug’s Spartans from a second straight Berkshire League title and an even better Class S run than their semifinal finish a year ago?
“The other teams,” Shepaug coach Scott Werkhoven said with a grin.
Washington, likely the most serious baseball town around northwestern Connecticut, cheered its Spartans to a 19-1 regular-season record and its 28th league title last year following an uncharacteristically long drought.
“This group is an old-school Shepaug team that loves going out and just playing baseball,” Werkhoven said.
Led by All-Staters Dutcher and Ethan Hubbard after the graduation of a third, Alan Stinson, and a few other position players, the Spartans seem prepared to do it again.
Hibbard’s .559 batting average is a school record, followed by Dutcher’s .469 and Joe Brunelli’s .423. Hibbard and Brunelli batted in 55 runs between them (28 and 27 respectively).
On the mound, Dutcher had a 1.25 ERA. Fellow senior Dom Perachi was 7-1 after Stinson’s 9-1.
But they’re not alone.
“There are some really good arms in the league,” Werkhoven says, citing Gilbert’s Riley Weiss, Wamogo’s Sean Coffey and Thomaston’s Drew Colavecchio as prime examples.
“On any given day…” he said, those arms can turn their teams into terrors.
Torrington, 9-11 last year, is used to terrors in the NVL.
League champion Holy Cross, 18-2, went to the Class S semis across the bracket from Shepaug.
Still, the Crusaders’ finish paled compared to an All-NVL Class M final between Seymour and Wolcott, producing a state championship for Seymour’s Wildcats.
St. Paul Catholic was 15-5 behind them on its way to the Class S Quarters. Woodland at 15-5 and Watertown, 14-6, round out the known threats to Torrington’s ascent this year.
Nevertheless, coach Pat Richardson is optimistic, despite the loss of All-State catcher Cam Cerruto to West Point’s team this year.
“I think we can replace his bat with our experience, top to bottom of the order, and I think we can compete with the rest of the league with our pitching,” Richardson said.
Vanotti and fellow junior Kyle Banche join senior Ben Richardson at the heart of the Red Raider pitching staff. Seniors C.J. Root and Garrett Fosbrook are key parts of the experienced batting order, along with junior McGillicuddy.
The Raiders’ final game last year fueled Richardson’s optimism. Torrington lost 6-5 to Wethersfield in Class L’s second round.
“We played great,” said Richardson. “We were three outs away from winning when we ran out of pitching. They won it in the bottom of the seventh.”
Wethersfield marched on to the Class L state championship.
If Torrington’s pitching is better this year, “Who can’t the Raiders play with?” asks their coach.