SOUTHINGTON - When the New Britain baseball team walked off the field last Thursday, the Hurricanes left with the disappointing realization that a potentially shocking win slipped from its grasp, but they also departed with a sense of promise.
New Britain’s state tournament run had ended with a valiant upset bid against No. 3 Southington, in a game the Hurricanes eventually dropped 4-3 in 11 innings. But given the valuable experience the young group received through two do-or-die games this postseason, it’s not hard to imagine this group finding itself back in the same spot next season, one year older and one year wiser to what it takes to make a deep run.
“I told the guys that these are the experiences that you’re going to remember,” New Britain head coach Roberto Mercado said. “For the sophomores, to be able to grow for two more years and be in a state tournament and have two playoff games under your belt, it’s so valuable for the future of our guys.”
That future was certainly on display during the Hurricanes’ pair of thrilling state tournament games over the past week. In Saturday’s qualifying round, sophomore Nigel Crundwell recorded a game-tying single in the sixth inning against Hamden, only to come back up to bat in extra innings and smack another single to win the game and set up a showdown with the nearby Blue Knights.
Seeking an upset against a heavily favored Southington team, New Britain’s future showed up again during Thursday’s loss, while making the present moment awfully tough for their unsuspecting opponent.
Sophomore Chris Gibbs pitched his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the 10th, capped off with a big strikeout to end the threat. Junior Justin Adorno finished 3-for-4 with a run scored and junior catcher Michael Gajda ripped an RBI double and threw out two runners from behind the plate, giving Mercado a sign of things to come as the group continues to mature and improve.
“That was a great experience for [Gibbs] as a sophomore and to be able to help him grow over the next two years,” Mercado said. “And we’re going to rely on Gajda and Adorno to be our leaders next year, but we’ll obviously miss all of the seniors that will be moving on.”
One of those seniors is Danniel Rivera, who rocked a go-ahead home run in the 11th before Southington walked off with the win. And even through the heartbreaking finish to a colorful career, Rivera acknowledged the bright future that lies ahead of his teammates.
“I feel like I left on a good note,” Rivera said. “I set a lot of examples for these kids and it helped them to have the experience of playing in a rough game. Although the season ended in a rough way, this was the best game we played in the entire season.”
The loss likely still stings for the Hurricanes, but come next season, Mercado’s core of once inexperienced youngsters might look back at Thursday afternoon as the moment the team took a crucial step towards the bigger picture, which could come into focus next spring.
“It gave the underclassmen the opportunity to play in a great game like this,” Rivera said. “It gives the kids, but also the coaches, a boost going into next season.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org