Pictured: H-K coach Mark Brookes, left with Old Saybrook’s Nick Hahn before Monday’s Shoreline game.
By Paul Augeri
Casting the sports net on a gray and wet day across Middlesex County, all while waiting for word out of CIAC headquarters as to what the state track championships will (or won’t) look like in June …
**While well-wishers crowded Mark Brookes to congratulate him on his 700th victory as Haddam-Killingworth’s baseball coach, across the diamond, Old Saybrook counterpart Nick Hahn recalled the first time the two met.
Hahn was the assistant varsity coach at Guilford for seven seasons before being hired as the head coach at Old Saybrook.
“I knew of him before coming into the Shoreline,” Hahn said after the Rams’s 2-0 loss Monday. “Mark was one of the first guys that reached out to me when I took this job. At our first coaches meeting, he was the first guy that shook my hand. I have a lot of respect on that side of the field for sure.”
As Hahn continues to mold his own Shoreline program his – “We’re always going to play Old Saybrook baseball – hard-nosed, competitive, want to be the guy in the big spot” – he interspersed thoughts about his own team with admiration for what Brookes has accomplished at H-K.
Old Saybrook, as good a 3-7 team as you’ll find, put up a great fight, only to suffer a fifth straight loss of two or fewer runs. The Rams yielded two unearned runs in the fourth inning Monday. They had chances late in the game to push a run or two across but could not execute basic baseball plays.
That makes all the difference, especially against a team of H-K’s ilk.
“Every coach knows that when you’re preparing to play H-K, you’ve got to do the little things right,” Hahn said. “You have to be prepared for small ball in certain situations. Mark’s pitchers are always going to be throwing strikes, so you have to be ready to hit early in the game. He doesn’t beat himself. That’s the biggest thing. You have to earn your wins against H-K.”
“Today,” he added, “I thought we were one swing away. It just shows that one play, one pitch, one swing against a very good team that doesn’t beat themselves” can be the difference between winning and losing. “If you don’t get bunts down, if you don’t move a runner over when you need to, it can come back to hurt you.”
It can, and it did on Monday for the Rams. Hahn likes his team and the identity it is establishing.
“We’ve proven that we’re never going to give up,” he said. “We have the right guys for the job, we just have to put seven innings together.
Brookes Will Know When It’s Time
Brookes, 70, hinted that as long as he’s physically capable and has the energy level necessary to do the job, he will continue coaching. He played for the great John DeNunzio at Middletown High, and over the years DeNunzio would take in H-K games and the two would ruminate.
“I said, ‘How did you know when it was time to stop, John?’ And he said, ‘You’ll know when it’s time.'”
North Haven’s Bob DeMayo is 88 and still on the job, having won more than 900 games, although he has battled serious health problems over the last couple of years.
On average, H-K has won 100 games every six seasons. Brookes is in better shape than most of us. Let’s all continue to enjoy his teams and and his presence.
For Brookes’ Father, Sportsmanship Mattered
Phil Devlin is a close friend of Brookes who was there at the beginning when Brookes organized the baseball program at H-K in 1976. Devlin taught English in the school system and, among his endeavors with athletics over the years, was the Cougars’ junior varsity coach for their first decade.
We chatted on Friday before H-K’s went out and beat Portland for Win No. 699.
“I talked to Mark’s father, Duane, before he passed (in September 2019), and one of the things he was most proud of with Mark is that his teams receive the sportsmanship aware almost every year from the umpires,” Devlin said.
Devlin is a talented writer and a real good talker. He zagged his way to the topic of Brookes’ 1986 team, which lost to Canton in the Class S championship game (Brookes has made five trips to a state final, only to come up empty each time). Killingworth native Jeff Bagwell attended H-K Middle before choosing to attend Xavier High. He was a member of the middle school’s 1982 eighth-grade team 13-1.
“The ’86 team is arguably the best H-K team ever,” Devlin said. “Can you imagine if Jeff Bagwell was on that team?”
Uh, state championship banner hanging in the field house?
‘The Best Baseball Conference in Connecticut’
Speaking of his time in Guilford’s dugout, Nick Hahn offered this take about the top-to-bottom quality of baseball in the Shoreline Conference.
“We play in the best baseball conference in Connecticut,” he said. “I firmly believe that. We’re a bunch of Class S and Class M schools. Coming over from a school like Guilford in the SCC, this is as good if not better than any conference in the state.”
That’s quite the statement, I said.
“I firmly believe that,” Hahn said. “With the coaches that are here, with the programs that here, I firmly believe this is one of the most competitive conferences. And we’re right there.”
Mercy Riding Five-Game Winning Streak
Since a last-inning loss to Lauralton Hall in April, its third straight defeat at the time, Mercy has won five straight. More than halfway through the regular season, coach Tony Calcagni’s Tigers are 7-3.
Mercy’s first four wins in its current run were by blowout. The fifth was awfully satisfying, a 2-1 triumph at Sacred Heart Academy. The Tigers scored in the top of the ninth, avenging a 4-1 loss to SHA in Week 2.
“It was a two-edged sword,” Calcagni said. “It was a real good win and stressful the whole way through. It was real nice win going down there and winning. Sacred Heart is a good team. We have been a work in progress, so we’re tightening up things. The kids played very well, yes. They defended very well and took away their strength (the Sharks’ small-ball, running style of game).”
Of Mercy’s seven remaining regular-season opponents, only East Haven (9-1) has a winning record. The rest of the schedule, with records through Wednesday: Hand (3-7), Branford (3-8), Hillhouse (0-11), coming-off-quarantine North Haven (2-2, home and away), Lauralton (2-6) and Career Magnet (1-8).
Calcagni will not get caught up in won-lost records or project “easy” wins.
“The records are a little deceiving,” he said. “We have two games this week with Hand (Thursday) and Branford (Friday), who we’ve handled pretty well. But did we catch them on a bad day? The winning and losing for our team is so narrow. Alexa (senior Alexa Boone) has to pitch well, otherwise forget about it. The rest of the kids are coming along.”
The coach says these are games his team should win. The Tigers are playing better all the way around. They are far and away the best team in the SCC’s Quinnipiac Division, which includes Hand, Guilford (4-8), Branford and Hillhouse. Mercy will be in the SCC tournament in late May as the division’s champion.
“To win our division and qualify for the SCC tournament is real nice for this team,” Calcagni said. “We’ve been down for so long and we’ve barely qualified for the tournament the last couple of years. We’d get a banner on the gymnasium well for a division title. That’s small potatoes to some, but the kids are looking for that.”
Odds And Ends
**UConn-bound left-hander Kolby Pascarelli of Coginchaug went the distance Monday in a 9-1 win over Valley Regional. Pascarelli, 4-0 in four starts, has allowed eight hits and one earned run in 25 innings (0.28 ERA), with six walks and 46 strikeouts. Senior right-hander Alex Mach is 3-0 and junior southpaw Alex Tawa has won twice this season.
**Coginchaug regulars Conner Willet (.333), Chris Carafeno (.344) and Mike Garofalo (.367) are hitting well over .300, but their averages pale in comparison to the raking of Jeremy Mangiameli (.514), RBI leader Pascarelli (.444) and Anthony Morro (.406). Top to bottom, IMO, Coginchaug has the strongest lineup in the Shoreline.
**Malcolm Mention is back in Cromwell’s outfield, having recovered from a broken foot suffered in the final game of the Panthers’ basketball season.
**Cromwell junior Ian McMillan has become a force in the middle of the lineup. He had another big game at the plate — 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored in an 11-7 win over Hale-Ray on Monday. McMillan is hitting .371 in the team’s 7-3 start.