Pictured: Coginchaug senior left Kolby Pascarelli fires a pitch in the second inning of Saturday’s 2021 opener against Portland.
By Paul Augeri
DURHAM – First, an acknowledgement of the glorious fact that baseball and all other high school spring sports are back in play in 2021.
“All of us coaches were looking so forward to being out with the boys, having fun, doing what we’ve done for years,” Coginchaug coach Mark Basil said on a 70-degree Saturday. “We’ve all been locked up inside and been limited to what we can do. Just to be outside shagging fly balls, we all have a different perspective on the game of baseball and athletics as a whole. It’s been fun.”
On the first day of games since the pre-COVID 2019 season, Coginchaug belted 11 hits and left-hander Kolby Pascarelli struck out 11 Portland batters in the Blue Devils’ 14-0 Shoreline Conference victory.
Pascarelli, a UConn commit whose fastball touches the upper 80s, allowed just five baserunners in the 4½-inning game. The team’s ace also helped himself at the plate with two hits and three RBIs.
“He looked really good. He looked comfortable,” said Coginchaug catcher Mike Garofalo. “I think that’s his biggest thing, being comfortable on the mound throwing strikes. He throws hard. That’s all he has to do, throw strikes and be consistent.
“Balls that (Portland) put in play, we were there. No errors. He’s got a good defense behind him.”
Garofalo singled, doubled, scored three runs and drove in two to lead a deep Coginchaug lineup. No. 4 hitter Jeremy Mangiameli had two hits and Connor Willett and Chris Carafeno drove in two runs apiece. Every Devils hitter reached base and scored at least one run.
“Hats off to Coginchaug,” Portland coach Rick Borg said. “They will be formidable this year.”
Portland is technically the defending Shoreline champion. The Highlanders walked off with the league title with an eight-inning win over Haddam-Killingworth in 2019.
But this an entirely different Portland team. Although several current Highlanders were in the program two years ago, most of those in Saturrday’s lineup were getting their first taste of varsity baseball.
It showed in the second inning when the Blue Devils put up four runs on three Portland errors. After that, it was a showcase for Coginchaug’s bats. The Devils scored two more runs in the third and batted around in an eight-run fourth.
“We have some really good bats,” Basil said. “More than anything, we’re really solid one through six in the order and even seven-eight-nine can hit well, too. We had some poor at-bats in the first inning when we left (two) runners on and didn’t hit the ball hard. I just want to make sure that these guys have the right idea and the right approach to every at-bat going forward.”
Pascarelli allowed just two hits – a single by Portland pitcher Devin Murphy in the second and a single by Tyler Tabellione in the fourth.
Basil hinted that Pascarelli held back somewhat on Saturday. The left-hander confirmed as much.
“I was trying to dip into my arsenal to get ready for the bigger games,” Pascarelli said. “I was just going out there and feeling around. Maybe (his stuff) wasn’t 100 percent out there today, but I was definitely trying to put the ball in play for my team and get them work. And I tried to throw as many strikes as I could. I think I finished around 60 pitches. That’s a pretty efficient outing for me.”
In the fifth, Pascarelli also flashed his glove. Ranging all the way to the third on the third-base line to field a trickler off the bat of Austin Vess, he turned his body and fired to first for the out.
For two years, Pascarelli and the core of this team has said it would compete for a state championship in 2021. They certainly got off on the right foot in Game 1.
“Our team is really high motor,” he said. “A lot of ‘em play really good baseball outside of Coginchaug, so they’re really mentally here. The team is different from years past where we don’t have to go over a ton of stuff, we just have to out there and play. Everybody could play college baseball on this team, for sure. We just want to win a state championship this year. That’s the whole goal. It’s not about personal success or how many hits we get as an individual.”
Port. 000 00–0 2 4
Cog. 042 8x–14 11 0
Batteries: Port–Devin Murphy, Billy Crawford (4) and Mike Quesnel. Cog–Kolby Pascarelli and Mike Garofalo. WP: Pascarelli; LP: Murphy. 2B: Cog. (Garofalo).
Monday: Coginchaug visits Westbrook; Portland visits Hale-Ray.
Portland sophomore Harrison Collins left his feet to make a diving catch to his right at shortstop in the second inning, robbing Anthony Morro of a hit. Collins was going to be the Highlanders’ right fielder. He sprung into action at short because of an injury to senior J.T. Jagoda. Jagoda felt a pop in his elbow making a throw to first in a recent scrimmage game and will have an MRI next week.
Junior Alex Tawa will get the start for the Blue Devils on Monday at Westbrook. Tawa, a former Xavier student, was the designated hitter on Saturday. He reached base three times, had two singles, two runs scored and drove in one … Coginchaug senior outfielder Evan Faiella will be available to play following Monday’s game … Portland graduate Grant Collins is playing at Choate this spring.
TIP OF THE CAP
Garofalo liked what he saw in junior Anthony Morro, who scored twice and laced two balls for outs. “Anthony looks really good, really comfortable up there, puts good swings on the ball,” said Garofalo. “He’s aggressive, he swings at a first-pitch strike. I think he’ll have a good year.”