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Plenty of Optimism For Raiders As Start Of Baseball Season Nears (By Rich Elliott)

POSTED March 24, 2017
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By Rich Elliott

TORRINGTON – The season had ended for the Torrington High baseball team minutes earlier at Quigley Stadium in West Haven. A 2-1 loss in the second round of the Class L tournament to eventual champion Notre Dame-West Haven represented climax of a stretch of approximately six weeks that saw the Raiders battle through the arrest of one player and the discipline of several others by Coach Pat Richardson.

Still, that did not stop Jake Reynolds from approaching Richardson in the wake of the defeat to let him know that he already had an eye on the future. Reynolds knew the team was better than its 10-12 finish. He knew that there would be plenty of talented players returning, especially a hungry group of rising seniors like himself.

More importantly, Reynolds knew that the confidence and hunger in the returning players would provide a solid foundation for a group looking to right the program. The future is now the present as Torrington is posed to open a new season, weather permitting, in a matter of days.

``We know what we had,’’ Reynolds said. ``The starting lineup was constructed almost completely of juniors. That means this year, despite a couple of injury losses, we’re experienced. And I think what held us back last year was errors. We hit. We’re going to hit.

``And I think we have a year of experience now on our back after that year of a few ground ball turn into runs, it turns into two runs, it turns into two-run losses. So I think the experience is definitely going to clean us up and I think it is going to be a different story this year.’’

The Raiders committed 60 errors last season, an average of 2.7 per game. They committed three in the finale against Notre Dame-West Haven, including a pair in the sixth inning that yielded the game-winning run.

That loss will serve as motivation this season. And, led by Reynolds and fellow seniors Delvin Alvarez, Dom Sabia, Austin Todd and Ben Vanotti, Torrington is hoping to parlay last season’s mistakes into a season of success this year.

The Raiders are scheduled to open the regular season Saturday against Litchfield at Fuessenich Park (noon). Sabia believes that they have the potential to ultimately make a deep run in the Class L tournament.

``That’s one thing all of us returning guys always talk about is last year how (Notre Dame-West Haven) ended up going to win states and we had that shot to beat them,’’ Sabia said. ``And this year that’s one goal for all of us seniors is to get a ring before we graduate … NVL, States. I think that definitely this year we have a good shot of making a run in States. We have a lot of older guys. We have a lot of younger guys that have talent. We should have a good year.’’

The Raiders’ experience in dealing with adversity has already been put to the test this preseason. Senior ace right-hander Jason Vinisko has been lost for the season after suffering a neck injury in a car accident.

Vinisko led the staff in ERA (2.53), strikeouts (54) and innings pitched (52 2/3) last season.

`` We’re hoping and praying for him that everything recovers well,’’ Richardson said. ``He would definitely be our No. 1 pitcher coming in here. And a good kid. He’s been seeing varsity time since freshman year. It’s a big loss, but it also gives a chance and an opportunity for the young guys to get some varsity experience for the future. So I guess that’s the rainbow in the dark.’’

Richardson said that he does not have a No. 1 starter right now. Reynolds and Alvarez, both right-handers, junior left-hander Brian Bassler and ``six or seven’’ underclassmen will vie for a spot in the rotation.

Reynolds, who leads all returning players in innings pitched at just 16 2/3, could potentially surface as the Raiders’ No. 1 starter. This is a challenge Reynolds welcomes.

``I know that I’ve had my ups and downs as a pitcher, but I grew a lot,’’ Reynolds said. ``I grew into my body a lot and I feel like I can have some good stuff if I keep working hard.’’

While the pitching situation sorts itself out, the Raiders will rely on what expects to again be a potent lineup to carry them. They hit a combined .332 and averaged 5.9 runs and 10.2 hits per game last season.

Sabia and junior Cam Cerruto, both dynamic hitters, will fortify a lineup that has six players returning.

``That’s where I’m hoping the seniors can really step up and score some runs,’’ Richardson said. ``Certainly, Dom in the middle of our lineup is great. And then Cam Cerruto. And then some of our other seniors will be mixed in there at various parts of the lineup that I think we can score runs. And it’s always fun to manufacture runs, too.’’

Cerruto led the Raiders in hitting (.441), had 12 RBI, 18 runs scored and hit .500 with runners in scoring position last season. He is expected to provide solid protection behind Sabia in the lineup.

  ``Cam’s worked hard in the off-season,’’ Sabia said. ``We trained together. We hit together. And I feel he’s going to have a great impact this year. Three-four, two-three in the lineup, that’ll be a good duo in the lineup.’’

Sabia, who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Quinnipiac, hit .413 with 12 doubles, a team-high 18 RBI and 17 runs scored. He also tied Cerruto for the team-lead in walks (13) and hit .462 with runners in scoring position.

``I’m definitely going out to make a statement for my last year,’’ Sabia said. ``I’m ready to play. I feel good about this season. Cam feels good and I know all the seniors feel great about it. Even the younger kids, they’re showing they really want to make a difference this year. And if we have that and everybody’s making a difference and everybody’s working hard and really focusing on this year to set goals not only for themselves but as a team I feel like that can go a long way.’’

On paper, the Raiders have a fine mix of senior leadership, talent and a host of underclassmen ready to assume greater roles this season. The onus will be on the seniors to galvanize this team. If it is able to bond and execute the overriding sentiment is that this could be a special season.

``Definitely a year of proving that Torrington’s still a baseball town and Torrington High School’s still around to hit because that’s what we do,’’ Reynolds said.

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