Torrington ending just a beginning. Story by Rick Wilson
TORRINGTON - You can call it an ending if you want and you wouldn’t be wrong. After all, Torrington’s 5-1 loss to Brookfield in the Class L quarterfinals Friday did indeed bring a disappointing conclusion to the finest softball season in school history.
But, let’s qualify the disappointment part. It was only a downer because every loss at the end of a season in which a dream of reaching the mountaintop is squashed leaves you a little empty.
But, shed no tears for today and bring on the smiles for tomorrow if you are a Red Raider rooter. This season has the makings of one pretty special beginning. The dream didn’t die; it was just delayed a bit.
The 2012 campaign was a high water mark for Red Raider softball. A school record of 21 wins with a final mark of 21-4. Take a look at the losses. A pair of defeats at the hands of NVL champion and state’s No. 1 ranked team, Seymour by 4-0 and 1-0 margins and a 1-0 loss to Woodland.
Along the way coach Maryann Musselman’s team earned its first trip to the NVL championship game and came within an error of nearly toppling the Wildcat machine in a memorable 1-0 battle at Naugatuck’s Veteran’s Field.
Heck if the Raiders graduated two thirds of its starting team that would be a superb season to hang your hat on. Even if nothing was on the horizon. But, here’s the beginning part. The Raiders should get better. And while Seymour may own the rights to the NVL championship the Wildcats had better check their deed because Torrington is coming.
Only shortstop Mollie Bartles will be marching in cap and gown across the graduation stage shortly. Everybody else is back. Everybody. Mussleman’s band is fresher and younger than a spring flower.
You need binoculars to find a junior and there is one if you zoom in with third baseman Baylee Vinisko now the elder statesman of the team. The rest of the team is comprised of four freshmen and five sophomores.
While scenarios can change in the time it takes to lace a line drive and nothing is ever assured, this season has all the indications of being the dawn of at the very least three years of fun in the sun not to mention a lot of wins and maybe titles for the Raiders.
And it all starts on the mound. Rarely in any sport can you find a position so dominant if the right person is playing it. Torrington has the right person in Sydney Matzko.
Matzko is well on her way to becoming one of those `once every generation’ players. Torrington has good pitchers in the past like Terri Bambikidou who used to lock up in great duels with Pat Conlon of Holy Cross,20-25 years ago.
But when all is said and done Matzko may be the best of them all and an NVL and state great not just a Torrington Hall of Famer.
The hard throwing lefty strikes out opponents in numbers that a calculator needs to total. What you like about Matzko is that she is so much more than just a dart thrower. She has a repertoire of pitches that she is still refining that includes a change-up that had half of the opposition screwing itself four feet into the ground.
And she is a pitcher not just a thrower. She works corners, she looks for weaknesses. Few touched her this season. There is much in Maryann Musselman’s life to be thankful for. Having Matzko walk to the mound every game is near the top of the list.
There is also a maturity level here beyond her sophomore status. She doesn’t look like a sophomore and doesn’t handle the ups and downs like one. She has taken the brilliance and accolades of this season in stride.
And while there hasn’t been a whole lot of adversity this season, when it did present itself, it was a senior reaction. Against Brookfield, Matzko was hit harder than at any time this season. She didn’t give up a lot of hits and struck out nine. But the Bobcats were on the ball much of the time and hit a lot of balls hard.
Matzko had to work extra hard and in the fourth inning tried to get too fine, hitting a batter and walking two, forcing a run in. If there was frustration you didn’t see it and at the end of the game which was the end of the season you didn’t hear it.
“I had control but I knew I couldn’t leave the ball in some spots,” said Matzko. “I tried to work the corners. They are very good hitters.”
Rattling Matzko with the bats won’t be easy in the future. Either will rattling here any other way.
It starts with Matzko but the Raiders are more than an MVP left arm. There are hitters including Matzko. Marissa Morris, a freshman catcher bats cleanup and can sting the ball. At the top of the lineup another freshman, center fielder Brittany Anderson and sophomore second baseman Nikki Jamieson can be formidable.
There is potential here. Musselman knows the offense has to keep working against the top level teams if the Raiders want to make it to the top. No runs against Seymour, no runs against Woodland. One run, which was enough, in the 1-0 second round tournament win over Bristol Central. One run against Brookfield.
The bats and execution need to mature. There was a base running mistake against Brookfield that cost the Raiders a run and wouldn’t have made a difference in the game but it is a mistake you can’t make at this point in the season. Knowing that Matzko won’t give the opposition much allows for some margin of error, but not much.
The defense is solid, but will need to avoid the error in the close game that cost the Raiders a couple of times this season.
All the ingredients are here for a grand royal run for the Raiders. The season ended Friday. But, the fun may have just started.
Welcome to the beginning.