BERLIN - As Southington North pinch hitter Collin Martin rounded the bases after smashing a solo home run during Tuesday’s Little League District 5 tournament game against Southington South, he was greeted at third base by a pair of outstretched hands.
One, to no surprise, belonged to Southington North head coach Ed Roderick. The other belonged to Southington South third baseman Thomas Migliore.
The game was already seemingly in hand by the time Martin’s fourth-inning bomb cleared the left field fence (only cutting Southington South’s lead to 9-2), but the handshake between two opponents was one of a number of friendly interactions between both teams on Tuesday.
Both were battling through an elimination game that would go a long way in providing town bragging rights, but throughout the contest, conversations could be found on the basepaths, at the plate and eventually after the game, which Southington South won 9-5 to advance and face Farmington.
“I know a few kids on their team,” Martin said. “It’s pretty hard playing against some of my friends, because I know they’re good players. They’re good at baseball and other sports we compete in.”
Tuesday’s matchup between the two crosstown foes marked the most important game of the season for both teams, and was the second time that they met in the tournament, with Southington South also winning the first by a narrow mark of 11-10.
With seasons on the line, the opponent staring back from the other dugout only made the experience more special for each team.
“Some of those kids have played travel together for the past three or four years,” Southington South head coach Curtis Migliore said. “We all know each other. I’m good friends with (Roderick). Our kids played basketball together. We know each other very well.”
Both teams shared a common fondness and a mutual respect for each other, but it didn’t take away from the competitive spirit once the first pitch was thrown. It may not have had the feel of a rivalry fueled by disdain, but both teams were still fighting for their tournament lives, and they played that way.
“It was fun before the game, but once it started, we were all serious,” Southington South pitcher Jason Gratta said. “We established that from the start. Both teams knew what our strengths and weaknesses were, so we both just went in and played our best, and we were able to come out on top.”
Neither team was afraid to show their game face when staring down fellow classmates and travel league teammates, because both sides knew once the final out was recorded, their bond would stretch far beyond the joy of victory or disappointment in defeat from Tuesday’s game.
“Playing the game doesn’t break friendships,” Martin said. “My friends on the other team will always be my friends in the future.”
Martin admitted to the experience being slightly ‘weird’ given the closeness of both teams, in terms of proximity and relationships, which was a sentiment that also bled over to the coaching staff.
“You want to get competitive with them, but you also realize that they’re good guys at heart,” Curtis said. “Nothing is malicious. There is a mutual respect there, and we appreciate that.”
That respect was shown throughout Tuesday’s action, from the pregame mingling to Martin’s handshake with Migliore. In the eyes of both teams, it will last far beyond the handshake lines that were formed after the friendly rivalry came to an end, at least until next summer.
“At the end of the day, we both represent Southington,” Roderick said. “These kids will go on to play in high school together or whatever they decide to do, but I’m glad they were able to do this with each other.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org