Pictured: Amid the postgame celebration Monday, Mark Brookes gets a cake from daughter Erin. Three of Brookes’ five children and seven of his 12 grandchildren were on hand to see the H-K Cougars give their coach his 700th career win at the school.
By Marc Silvestrini
OLD SAYBROOK — Forty-four years ago, in 1977, a young physical education teacher named Mark Brookes established the baseball program at brand new Haddam-Killingworth High School. The team, which had no seniors, finished its inaugural season with an 8-10 record.
On Monday, that same coach, still running the same program at the same high school, won the 700th game of his long and storied career, 2-0 victory over a young and up-and-coming Old Saybrook team.
“It’s a nice number,” Brookes said after the game, which is about as close to blowing his own horn as he is ever likely to get. “It’s been a pleasure to work with great kids like this, the kind of kids who put in a lot of extra time trying to get better, trying to improve their game.
“I’ve been very lucky to have had kids like that year in and year out.”
The win improves H-K’s record to 9-2 on the season and guarantees a 43rd straight season of a .500 record or better. Old Saybrook slips to 3-7.
Brookes is 700-301 with 10 Shoreline championships. H-K nailed down the milestone victory behind the two-hit pitching of starter Alex Sheehan and closer Alden Halfinger and a clutch two-out, fifth-inning double by Luke DiMauro that plated two unearned runs.
Sheehan limited the Rams to a single hit over six innings of work while striking out seven and walking four. Halfinger, who was summoned in the bottom of the seventh, fanned the first two batters he faced, surrendered a two-out double to Auggie Albert, and then got a strikeout on a 3-2 fastball to secure the win.
“Alex threw the ball well for us today,” Brookes said of Sheehan, a junior right-hander. “He’s got a lot of potential and I think he made a huge step forward today.”
Right-hander Gabe Kaar, who gave up no earned runs and only two hits over five innings, was the hard-luck loser for the Rams. Kaar was relieved by Jake Butler after surrendering a lead-off single to H-K’s Matt Miranda in the top of the sixth.
Butler proceeded to make a throwing error on Nick Glynn’s sacrifice bunt attempt and then walked Sheehan to load the bases with no one out. But he rallied back to retire the side with no further damage on a pop up to short, sandwiched between two strikeouts.
“I thought he (Kaar) gave us everything we could have asked for, we just didn’t make enough plays on defense behind him,” Old Saybrook coach Nick Hahn said.
Sheehan and Kaar rang up matching zeros on the scoreboard through four full innings before H-K’s Ryan Kehlenbach led off the Cougar fifth by reaching first on an infield error – one of five the Rams would commit on the day.
One out later, Kaar hit H-K’s Alec Erskine to put runners at first and second, but made up for it by pouncing on Lucas Kamoen’s bunt to the right of the mound and getting off a perfect throw to third while sliding to the turf, forcing the lead runner for the inning’s second out.
DiMauro then crushed a fastball that sailed over the head of Noah Hester in center field, allowing the first two and only runs of the game to cross the plate.
“It was definitely a fastball,” DiMauro said of the pitch he hit. “When I hit it, I didn’t think the center fielder would have a chance because I knew I hit it hard.”
When asked if the game-winning shot was the biggest hit of his career, the senior outfielder didn’t hesitate.
“I hit a grand slam my sophomore year, but this one feels better because of what it meant for Coach,” he said. “I’m going to remember this one for a long time.”
DiMauro, Miranda and Halfinger collected the three H-K hits, while Old Saybrook’s two hits belonged to Albert and Noah Grace.
Brookes will try to begin his climb to the 800-win mark on Wednesday when the Cougars host Cromwell. On Friday they travel to North Branford. Both games are scheduled to begin at 4pm.
Old Saybrook, a young team with two sophomores and two freshmen in Monday’s starting lineup, hosts Westbrook on Wednesday (4pm), travels to Old Lyme on Friday (4pm) and hosts Cromwell on Saturday (1pm).
“We’ve been struggling on defense lately and today we also had trouble coming up with the big hit when we had the opportunity to score some runs,” Hahn said. “You’re going to have to execute a lot better than that if you want to beat a team as good as H-K.”
But on what was largely a damp and drizzly afternoon on the Shoreline, Hahn thinks he might have glimpsed a ray or two of sunshine.
“I thought we played them tough today,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been looking for from this team. I think today we proved that we deserve to be on the same field with quality baseball teams.”
HK 000 020 0–2 3 0
OS 000 000 x– 0 2 5
Batteries: HK–Alex Sheehan, Alden Halfinger (7) and Nick Glynn; OS–Gabe Kaar, Jake Butler (6) and Connor Lane. WP: Sheehan; LP: Kaar; S: Halfinger. 2B: HK–Luke DiMauro; OS–Auggie Albert. Records: H-K 9-2; Old Saybrook 3-7.