Photo: Alex Mach parlayed two years at UConn Avery Point to the next stage of his baseball career. He is now on Division I UConn’s roster.

By Logan Wenzel
Middlesex County Sports Correspondent

Former Middletown Post 75 right-hander Alex Mach has taken the leap from local star to a lockdown arm at the University of Connecticut as their newest addition to the Huskies’ pitching staff.

Through an unlikely journey to the top of Division I college baseball, Mach reminisced on what has led him to this point and the memories he forged along the way. With the help of a few important people, he said that joining Middletown’s American Legion program was the initial building block he needed to follow his dreams of being a UConn baseball player.

“I just tried out and ended up falling in love with it,” Mach said. “Mostly because of coaches really is why I stuck with it as long as I did.”

That coach was none other than Middletown’s own, Dan Botti. Botti, who pitched for Middletown High School, Post 75 and UConn Avery Point, passed along his knowledge to a younger group of guys coming after him.

“Before I knew him, I didn’t know if I would be playing college baseball,” said Mach, who played high school ball at Coginchaug Regional.

Botti saw the big picture in play for Mach and suggested he put his energy into pitching.

“I wasn’t really even a pitcher before, I only pitched in Little League and occasionally in a Babe Ruth game,” Mach said. “Obviously, I couldn’t really hit much, so he put me in to pitch one game and that’s kind of when it started unfolding.”

American Legion ball, overtaken in popularity by the abundance of AAU teams playing a summer tournament circuit, finds diamonds in the rough from time to time. A Post 75 team core centered around Mach, Ryan Michaud, Tiernan Powers and Colin Loria, dominated for a four-year span. With supporting pieces to fill out the roster, Post 75 had winning records each summer and Mach’s success got the attention of college coaches.

“We kind of bonded a little bit,” Mach said about Botti. “His mentorship brought me Tiernan, Michaud, Colin, and a lot more, together and made us fall in love with the game. Post 75 was our whole lives in the summer.”

Joining Middletown Post 75 proved to be a turning point in Alex Mach’s evolution as a pitcher.

After becoming head coach in midsummer 2018, Botti said his decision to use Mach on the mound in an out-of-Zone 3 game was a “see what you have” moment.

“He struck out eight of the first nine guys he faces,” Botti said. “He had a wipeout slider immediately. Nobody taught him that, he just had it and it’s still the same one he throws today. It was unreal.”

Botti characterized Mach as a great defensive center fielder who hit at the bottom of the order with a little bit of “pop,” but his ultimate value came from his right arm.

“We got to keep doing this,” Botti said. “He looked fantastic, and we just kept starting him. He just kept building and it was all him, and he even ended up starting playoff games for us that year.”

Botti said this type of accidental success story snowballed into something much bigger.

“When you get on the mound and start dominating, you start feeling yourself a little bit and realize you’re really good at this,” Botti said. “Putting up great numbers season after season, it lit a fire under Alex.”

Part of his responsibility as a coach, Botti said, is to support players without being hyperbolic. Botti knew the team needed Mach for any prolonged success, but he also knew that Mach had a high ceiling.

“I told him, you need to know you are really good at this and you need to keep going,” Botti said.

“He just put his head down and worked. We had conversations the summer after his junior year (at Coginchaug) where he told me he didn’t know if college baseball was for him. We started sending video out, and I remember specifically we were trying to get him to just hit 80 (with his fastball) one single time. We were at Pat Kidney and it was 79, 79, 79, 79 and we were dying for him to try and hit 80 right before his senior year at CRHS. Then he just went nuts that winter. A couple of months later he sat 83 and topped 85 in his first (bull)pen of the year.”

Botti said he knew Mach would tap into every ounce of his talent.

“He could’ve just stayed home and played video games and topped 81 and went to a D-3 school or whatever he wanted to do, not that there anything wrong with that,” Botti said. “But he decided ‘I want to be great.’”

Mach’s work in the offseason paid off the next spring season in 2021, his senior year. As a key arm for Coginchaug, he helped to lead the Blue Devils into the Class S tournament. At Palmer Field, where he was very comfortable pitching, he got the final outs of a shutout victory over St. Paul in the championship game. Mach was the Shoreline Conference Pitcher of the Year with a 5-0 record and 0.43 ERA (two earned runs allowed in 32 2/3 innings).

“It was all about betting on himself,” Botti said. “This is why I love Alex’s story, he’s been the same pitcher since 2018. All he’s done is improve the little things and taken care of himself. He didn’t change his arm slot or change his mechanics like crazy. He’s gone from mid 70s to sitting low 90s in a couple of years and it is all just him working his ass off.”

He said everything about Mach’s pitching now is the same as it was when he was 15 with the exception of his velocity.

“Nobody gave him a secret formula,” Botti said. “He was never satisfied. That’s what I love about him and I’m super proud of him.”

Mach quickly found success with a heavy low to mid 80s fastball and a wipe-out slider that garnered the attention of UConn Avery Point coach Ian Ratchford. With such raw talent and poise for pitching, Mach knew he needed more time to develop into the pitcher he knew he could be out of high school.

“After high school, I only had one offer that wasn’t a JUCO offer,” Mach said. “It was Johnson & Wales University, a Division III school in Rhode Island.” He said the offer fell short of his expectations, so he chose Avery Point as the next stage for his development.

“Use it as a stepping stone because UConn has always been my number one,” he said.

“The quarantined summer I got to see him with the Legion team,” Ratchford recalled, “and he was a skinny kid that you could see was going to fill out. I could see that he hadn’t reached his full potential and told him, hey, Avery Point is a place that you could come and develop.’”

Ratchford said Mach’s desire to improve was at a higher level than the typical freshman player.

“It’s just his work ethic,” Ratchford said. “He started taking the weight room seriously, his throwing program, and his plyos. He held himself to a higher intensity and held himself accountable every day. It is that consistent hard work, making those little jumps over time, but people only see the end product. He worked tirelessly.”

He said the team, too, noticed that its best pitcher always wanted more for himself and the club.

“He is a coach’s dream,” Ratchford said. “He is a quiet guy, he’s not going to say much, but when guys notice that Alex is working hard like this and holding himself to that high standard, then there is no excuse for everyone else to not work that hard too. He’s very thoughtful about everything that he did.

“People might just think the kid was blessed with a great slider and quick arm, but no, he worked his ass off to get there.”

After hearing rumblings of interest from UConn’s coaching staff, Mach said he had yet to hear anything from head coach Jim Penders or pitching coach Josh McDonald. Mach said that the winter before his sophomore season at Avery Point is when it all changed for him.

“Penders, McDonald and the whole coaching staff reached out to me after I hit 93 in a bullpen at Swanson (Baseball Facility),” Mach said. “They were always in contact with my coaches, but it was the first time they reached out to me.”

Mach posted a video to X (formerly known as Twitter) of his first bullpen of the winter (December 2022). His fastball sat between 89 and 92 and topped at 93, with a sharp slider and fading change-up. These types of numbers turned the heads of other Division I programs. The video surpassed 50,000 views.

Mach had gone viral. UConn and Penders, coming off their two best seasons in school history, offered him.

“They put it out there that they wanted me to play for them,” Mach said. “I went on a visit and loved everything about it. I could tell after the first time talking to the coaches that they were very genuine. They want the best for me.”

Mach said being a UConn baseball player means the hard work will continue.

“Their facilities are beautiful, and they were a top 10 team in the country at one point,” Mach said. “The goal is to get to the College World Series and win it. They are going to push us to work hard and get better every day. That’s what you have to do to get to keep playing at the next level.”

Mach spent this summer pitching in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the Danbury Westerners, coached by his former Avery Point pitching coach, Connor Farrel.

“Going from JUCO to facing Power Five hitters every day, it’s a big difference,” Mach said. “This is what I need to do to go into UConn prepared. Can’t take anything for granted.”

His determination on top of having an unmatched support group helped elevate him to fulfilling his wildest dream of joining a Division I program

“Live through hard work,” Mach said. “My parents believed in me, Danny believed in me, coach Ratchford believed in me. He took me in when I was topping 80 and he pretty much turned me into what I am today. It’s very important to bet on yourself.”

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