Overcoming overbearing heat, Waterford’s 14-year-olds are now state champions. And for the players and its coach, it was pure redemption.
“It feels awesome,” Coach Joe Mariani said over and over after the game ended as person after person came up to hug him. “It feels good to say we are state champions.”
The Babe Ruth team defeated Simsbury, 10-5, to win the crown. It moves on to the New England Championship in Westfield, Mass., on Friday.
The Full Story
Last year, Waterford’s 13-year-old team lost in the state finals. Mike McDermott took the loss as the pitcher, and shortstop Jesse Coates struck out to the end the game.
This year, it seemed to be deja vu. Now 14-year-olds, the same group was in the state finals again, and again things didn’t start well.
Friday night, McDermott started the game, and did not record a single out while giving up five runs. Waterford eventually bounced back from a seven-run deficit, but Coates, now pitching, gave up the lead when he couldn’t find the plate.
“You don’t want to let the team down like that,” McDermott said. “I think I was almost too pumped up, I wanted it so bad.”
The game was recessed for darkness, and started again Saturday morning. Simsbury held on, winning 15-11. But it was a double elimination tournament, so Waterford had to lose again before it could be eliminated (Simsbury had already lost).
“I think that suspended game was good for us,” Mariani said. “It let us cool off, relax, take a shower and then get back out there.”
The second game started 20 minutes later, and Waterford came out swinging. The team rallied for five runs in the top of the first inning with a barrage of singles and a run-scoring double by Coates. The lead would never be relinquished.
“It was nice to score five runs in the first inning,” Mariani said. “Then I’m just thinking to myself, hold on, hold on.”
Waterford did just that. Pitchers Connor Lewis (3 innings) and Adam Goss (4 innings) were solid, pounding the strike zone and avoiding big innings. And Waterford’s strong offense continued to push across runs, leading to the 10-5 victory.
“They were a good team, but they just didn’t have the pitching,” Mariani said. “I think it was hard for them to come back when we kept scoring and putting them in a bigger hole.”
There was no one hero in the game, but many, with every batter who played the entire game getting at least one hit. Mixed into that was Coates, who went 3-for-5 with a double, and McDermott, who drove in a run and made a key play at third base with the bases loaded to end the third inning.
“It felt good, especially after giving up the lead last game,” Coates said. “It’s nice to be called state champions.”
Left fielder Griffen Archambault and center fielder Dylan Konakowitz matched Coates with three hits apiece, and second baseman Tom Pezzolesi was 2 for 3 with two runs, a walk and two RBIs. It was another team effort, Coates said.
“We don’t have any one superstar,” he said. “Anybody can be up with the bases loaded and we feel confident.”
At Millstone Park (where the game was played), a wall depicts all of Waterford’s previous Babe Ruth successes. The list is long, with several World Series appearances.
“We see that every day,” McDermott said. “We are basically competing against our own town.”
To match the other town legends and enter the World Series, the team will have to win the New England tournament. Really though, the tournament they just won might be a harder test, Mariani said.
“It always seems like the Connecticut tournament is the harder tournament,” the coach said. “I feel really good about us.”