Pictured: Coginchaug finished its season with a 22-3 record and the CIAC Class S championship, giving the Shoreline Conference its first title winner since Portland in 2014.
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – This was their mission for more than a year, since COVID-19 shelved the 2020 season. Coginchaug’s expectation was to play their final game of the 2021 baseball season on a June day/night at Palmer Field.
When the season began, Mark Basil had a championship contender in place — a deep roster with eight impact seniors and a fair number of able underclassmen whose relationships date to Little League. He had more players than he could possibly fit on one lineup card. A great problem for a coach to have.
The Blue Devils were going to be good and everyone knew it.
“You never want to look ahead because you miss the things in between,” said Basil, who was hired five years ago. “We were fortunate to come in and not have to start from the ground up. We were near the top step with this team and just tweaked a few things and kept them sharp, and just tried to figure out the best way to use players. We had some very good players that would probably play a lot on other teams.”
No. 3 seed Coginchaug showed up in full force Friday night and finished the job with an 8-0 victory over top seed St. Paul for the CIAC Class S championship, just the second in school history after the 1972 team. Basil got a cooler full of Gatorade dumped on his end and loved it.
“Forty-nine years. Forty-nine years. It’s awesome,” he said.
Everything went the Blue Devils’ way.
Left-hander Kolby Pascarelli pitched four-hit ball for 6 2/3 innings and struck out nine. He would have gone the distance had Steve Morelli’s ground ball to Jeremy Mangiameli not bad-hopped the third baseman’s glove. Because of pitch count, Morelli was Pascarelli’s last batter.
“Kolby was on, dialed in, the most confidence I’ve ever seen him,” catcher Mike Garofalo said. “He hit his spots, got in a rhythm, had the breaking ball working all night. He was just locked in from the start.”
Senior Alex Mach, who was 6-0 as a starter this season and tossed a shutout earlier in the tournament, struck out Devin Kulas for the final out. Pascarelli, who will put in a postgrad year at St. Thomas More before joining UConn’s program on scholarship, finished the season with an 11-0 record and sub-1.60 ERA.
“I just wanted to pitch my guts out for this team. I would have done anything for them tonight,” he said. “I’m just so happy we won it in this fashion. We went to practice with a mentality that was unmatched, and I’m so proud of everybody for the way they stepped into their roles. We knew we were going to have a good shot at a run for the state championship this year, but you have to put that together and do the little things.”
Coginchaug (22-3) put a runner in scoring position in each of the first two innings, but Falcons left-hander Brendan Foley, who struggled with location in 3 2/3 innings of work, pitched his way out of danger each time.
“We were so disappointed in ourselves (for not scoring) the first two innings,” Pascarelli said.
The combination of Foley losing the strike zone and the Falcons’ defensive meltdown put Coginchaug on a path to break open the game in the third.
No. 9 hitter Evan Faiella, who led off, struck out swinging on a ball that hit the dirt. Falcons first baseman Owen Davis could not come up with catcher Casey Cerruto’s short throw and Faiella was safe.
With Conner Willett at the plate, Faiella broke for second on a pickoff attempt by Foley and got in there when Davis’ throw to Ryan Daniels covering was wide of the bag. Willett ended up reaching on a throwing error by Daniels at short, and Owen Clancy — arguably Coginchaug’s hottest hitter in the tournament — followed with a single to score Faiella and put the Blue Devils up 1-0.
Willett, who advanced to third on the hit, scored on a passed ball as St. Paul (22-2) continued its undoing in the field. Clancy advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved up on a passed ball and scored on another passed ball to give the Devils a three-run lead.
“Once the gave us the opportunity to take the lead … the saying today was we were going to step on their throat and never let go,” Pascarelli said. “And once they gave us the opportunity to step on their throat, we never let go.”
Basil said grabbing the lead and knowing Pascarelli was in a groove brought him a sense of relief in the dugout.
“Any time you get on the board and get ahead, knowing the pitching we have, you know it’s going to be tough for them (to come back),” the coach said.
After Pascarelli allowed a lead-off single in the third and then struck out three in a row, Coginchaug, with a team batting average of .362 coming in, blew the game wide open in the top of the fourth.
Anthony Morro started it with a routine grounder to second, but Kulas’ throw pulled Davis off of first base. Morro was erased on Jack Konopka’s fielder’s choice grounder, but Garofalo singled to right-center and Willett walked to load the bases.
Owen Clancy struck out for the second out before Pascarelli fought off a two-strike fastball from Foley and dropped it into shallow right for two runs. Jamie Leggett relieved Foley and promptly surrendered a triple to center by Mangiameli for two more runs and, with Pascarelli dealing, as secure a lead as one might imagine.
Coginchaug pulverized its five tournament opponents, outscoring them by a 56-5 margin and winning three games by shutout.
Meanwhile, Pascarelli relied on a combination of fastball and curveball, as he has so successfully this season, in holding down St. Paul’s vaunted offense. Its most feared hitters — UConn-bound Daniels (.540 with 14 homers entering the game), Mario Izzo (.582) and Cerruto (.452) in the 3-4-5 spots — were a combined 0 for 8 with a walk.
“It’s not fun to lose when you make it to the finals, but obviously there is going to be a loser and today we were just outplayed and matched,” St. Paul coach Vic Rinaldi told reporters afterward. “Pascarelli was dominant and that’s exactly what happened.”
He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes and made adjustments after the first inning, which he said was the hardest any team has hit him in 2021.
“I think my fastball got better with the game,” he said. “I was able to work off the counts. It kind of sucked where I had to get pulled out of the game because I didn’t keep my pitch count that efficient, but I couldn’t be happier. It says a zero on that scoreboard. I don’t care how many hits I gave up, how many walks. I’m a happy guy.”
On a happy, state championship team.