Pictured: Visitors to the Coginchaug complex on Sunday were greeted to a banner acknowledging the school’s Class S championships in baseball and softball.
By Paul Augeri
In the early years of my sports journalism career, someone once told me that talking to “kids” – that’s student-athletes to me and you – was pointless. They don’t have anything interesting to say, I was told.
I let it go in one ear and out the other. Not talk to young people? Not hear what they have to say? It’s the best part about this gig.
Their perspective is what matters most. Players play, coaches coach. Listening to high school athletes talk about winning or losing, how they prepare, what the relationships with teammates and coaches mean to them, how they have managed the disruption of the last year-plus in their lives and other challenges – the responses I’ve heard over time have been thoughtful and inspiring.
A few examples:
On Saturday, Coginchaug senior shortstop Amalia DeMartino, the MVP of the Class S softball tournament, reflected on her final high school game playing for her coach/father, Steve.
“It’s sad because he’s been my coach all my life, since T-ball when I was 6. And now that that was our last game, and for it to end like that, he knows that was it,” she said. “But it’s a great way to go out.”
Somers senior pitcher Emily Reynolds, who allowed every one of Coginchaug’s 14 runs and 17 hits in its 14-2 win over her Spartans, couldn’t have been more upbeat, noting that no one could take the 2019 Class S title away from her (she beat Coginchaug in that one).
“Only getting three years to play varsity and winning a state championship as a sophomore, it’s something I’m eternally grateful for,” said Reynolds, who will go on to play at Mitchell College. “It can never be matched with anything. This (loss) was a hiccup. It will stand out, but there are so many positives to everything. I personally never expected to be here. We graduated a lot of players but we all just came together and left it out on the field every single game.”
**Kolby Pascarelli, the starting and winning pitcher for Coginchaug in its 8-0 rout of St. Paul in the Class S baseball final, has a big future ahead at UConn. Amid the postgame celebration Friday at Palmer Field, he gave one final salute to head coach Mark Basil and assistants Mike Caron and Brandan Basil.
“It was (the players’) team and he listened to us,” Pascarelli said. “I went into his office early in the year and told him if we bunted and played a lot of small ball, that we’d be a totally different team. And he really did his studying. Everything went to plan this year.”
Coginchaug was the best and deepest team in the Shoreline and by far the best in Class S with its pitching, defense, running game and ability to hit one through nine. The Blue Devils outscored their opponents 56-5 in the state tournament.
“A ton of people thought St. Paul was going to beat us and we didn’t know what was up with that,” said Pascarelli.
Some notes and reflections on the spring sports season …
**Coginchaug’s state championships in baseball and softball speak to the well-run and well-coached Durham/Middlefield youth programs and the strength of competition that the Shoreline Conference offered this season. The softball program has won 12 state championships.
“A very small farm town” is how Steve DeMartino reminded us from where Coginchaug grows its talent. “It’s amazing the talent level we get for being such a small town and not a school of choice. But these girls work hard. They deserve it.”
“I think a big reason why we did as well as we did is the strength of our conference,” he continued. “I don’t think Somers faced quality teams at the regular pace that we did in the Shoreline Conference. We had two teams go to state championships (North Branford lost in Class M). We had (three) teams go to the quarters. Playing that high level of competition in your conference prepares you for what’s ahead.”
**A final word on his daughter: Amalia DeMartino was the best all-around player in the Shoreline this season (and I don’t think it was close). DeMartino had 16 hits in 18 at-bats (.889 average!) in five state tournament games. Honestly, she hit the ball where she wanted to. Her cerebral approach to hitting will serve her well when she joins the team at Division III power St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., this fall.
“I’ve been working on my offense because when I get to college, those pitches are going to be good and I need to know how to hit an outside pitch and go with it and how to pull when they make a mistake and drive the ball every single time,” she said. “And that’s what happened (in the state tournament) and I’m really proud of myself for doing that.”
DeMartino, pitcher Kelly Boothroyd and her catcher sister, Dana, were the only seniors on this year’s roster. Steve DeMartino has said he will be back to coach in 2022 while attempting to see Amalia play as much as he can in college. Starters Ava Marenna, Jackie Kelly, Amanda Case, Allison Strang, Natalie Ness, Alayna Mariani and Emilie Hatje will be back.
The Boothroyds will go on to play at Simmons College in Boston’s Fenway’s neighborhood.
**Pascarelli will first attend St. Thomas More as a postgrad, where he’ll play baseball, in 2021-22 before entering UConn on scholarship. UConn recommended the extra year, Pascarelli said.
“Their recruiting class was so full because of COVID and stuff,” he said, “and I think it gives me a better opportunity to start as early as I can.”
From the 2021 Coginchaug team, Pascarelli, catcher Mike Garofalo, pitchers Alex Mach and Griffin Biro, outfielders Owen Clancy and Ethan Kupec, and infielders Jack Konopka and Chris Carafeno will play for Middletown Post 75 this summer.
**It was a lot of fun catching up with former Coginchaug baseball coaches Hal Eddy and Ted Lombardo ahead of Friday’s Class S final.
Lombardo, a Middletown native who now lives in Florida, came to Coginchaug as a teacher for the 1973-74 school year. He was the baseball coach and athletic director for years until retiring in 2015.
“That’s where my heart is,” he said by phone. “Down here when I’m asked who are my favorite teams, I say ‘the Yankees, UConn and Coginchaug.”
His Blue Devils only tasted the quarterfinals during his tenure, so Lombardo appreciates what Basil was able to accomplish with this year’s team.
“What a great win for Mark and his ballclub,” Lombardo said by phone. “They had a great regular season, but to follow up with such a dominant performance in the tournament, especially in the final, really is special.”
Eddy, 85, still lives in North Haven. When we talked, he had a scrapbook close by and ticked off the names of players Tom Guida, Bob Ogorzalek and Mike Lombardo as the top players on the 1972 team that won the school’s first, and before Friday, only state title.
Before Coginchaug opened in 1970, students from Middlefield had the option of attending Middletown High. Some of the players on Eddy’s ’72 team started out at Middletown, where they played for coach John DeNunzio.
“I had John’s catcher (Guida), his shortstop (Ogorzalek) and his left fielder (Lombardo) playing for me,” Eddy said with a laugh. “Bob Ogorzalek was probably the best infielder I ever had.”
As it turned out, Coginchaug and Middletown met in the Class C final, a 5-4 victory for the Blue Devils. Eddy had a scrapbook close by when we talked. He recounted an early-round game, when Jeff Brush pitched a no-hitter against East Granby, and the team overcoming a 5-0 deficit with a nine-run inning and beating Shepaug 9-8 in the semifinals.
“With one out we scored three runs, with two outs we got six more,” Eddy said. “We hit mostly singles. They couldn’t stop us in that one inning.”
The final against Middletown was played at Palmer Field. Lombardo remembered being in the car and listening to Bill Glynn call the action for WCNX Radio.
“They scored one run in the fifth, three in the sixth,” Eddy said. “We scored three in the first, two runs in the third and then held on at the end. Of course, John DeNunzio was one of the nicest gentleman around. In the seventh inning they went down 1-2-3. That was the only inning we actually had a 1-2-3 inning.”