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High school spring preview: Coventry softball, baseball both hoping for much of the same this season

While this past week’s weather has not been the best for practices and scrimmaging, state high school baseball and softball teams have been getting ready for the season, which opened Saturday in Connecticut.

Here is a look at some of the local teams expected to do well on the field this season.

NCCC softball continues to excel: Two teams from the NCCC are hoping to be among those standing in June. The conference has produced a few state champions recently: In 2018, Stafford won the Class S state title and Somers won in 2019.

Coventry won its first state championship last year in Class S, after not getting past the state semifinals 10 times since 1985.

Riding the arm – and bat – of then-junior pitcher Elizabeth Mitchell, the Patriots beat defending champion Cromwell 3-2 in the final game at UConn.

Mitchell, now a senior, is back for Coventry, which lost some players from last year’s team but has a new group ready to go. Sophomore Brooke Blouin has moved from third to catch and Sarah Miller, out with an ACL tear last year, will take over at shortstop.

“This is one of the strongest defenses I’ve had,” Coventry coach Jeff LaHouse said. “We’re always trying to get to that final game, like everybody else. We definitely have a team that’s good enough to get there. You got to have a little luck, everybody has to stay healthy – a lot more has to go right than just having a good quality team. But we have a team that can get there skill-wise.”

The other NCCC team to watch is Ellington, which has one of the state’s top pitchers in junior Camryn Fisher. The Knights advanced to the Class L semifinal game, losing to Masuk 7-0, and return eight starters, six seniors, and have three or four top freshmen ready to play.

“I expect we will be a little bit better than last year if we stay healthy,” Ellington coach Tom Gordon said.

Coventry beat Ellington 2-1 last year on April 21. The two will face off April 19 at Ellington.

Southington, Bristol Central are young: Southington won three straight state championships and 40 straight games before last year’s Class LL final, when the Knights lost to Fairfield Ludlowe 5-2. Southington, which has won 20 state titles, hadn’t lost in a state championship game since 2018. This year, senior Maddie Furniss, who will play at Georgia Tech next season, is on the mound for Southington. Mallory Rohon, who hit a home run in the state championship game last year, will catch. Other than that, the Knights are fairly young but there is always talent in Southington. “I think we’ll have a competitive team, I think we will just lack some of the experience we’ve had in years past,” Southington coach Davina Hernandez said. “We have the talent. It’s just a matter of settling in.” … Bristol Central, which advanced to the Class L semifinals last year where the Rams lost to Law 2-0, graduated ace Sophia Torreso and a host of seniors. “We are young and very green but there’s lots of enthusiasm and they’re very versatile,” Bristol Central coach Monica Hayes said. … Cromwell, which lost to Coventry in the Class S final, graduated a number of seniors, including two-time Shoreline pitcher of the year Lily Kenney, but returns senior catcher Victoria Wiatrak.

Berlin baseball expected to be strong

Berlin’s Jonah Shackford pitched a one-hitter last year in the Class L state semifinal game against Guilford. The one hit was a home run; Berlin lost to Guilford 1-0. The good news is that Shackford was only a sophomore and Berlin has a good number of players returning from that team, including senior pitcher Evan Gentile and junior pitcher Johnny O’Brien.

“We’re still putting some pieces together, but we don’t have too many holes to fill,” said Berlin coach Leo Veleas, who got his 600th win last season.

Berlin was the No. 10 seed last year, knocking off No. 2 East Lyme in the quarterfinals. Six seniors and 11 varsity players are back. Veleas’ best hitter, Max Weber, is a junior and senior Toby Lavender returns in center field.

Southington is another CCC team expected to be strong again. The Knights lost to Fairfield Warde 2-1 in the quarterfinals last season.

“When we went to the state championship a couple years ago, my first year – we have some of those guys coming back who were sophomores – Colin Crowley is back, Caden Angelo, Frank Boutot. CJ DiBenedetto had Tommy John surgery so he’s not back,” Southington coach Stan Switala said. “But those guys are back and they’re big pieces of it.”

Crowley, the shortstop and closer, will play at Winthrop next year while Angelo, the second baseman, is headed to UMass-Lowell. Boutot is a lefty who will bat cleanup and also play first base.

“We’re pretty loaded,” Switala said. “I think this team is better than the team I had my first year that went to the state championship. I think we’re deeper in pitching.”

Southington opens with Northwest Catholic Monday then hosts Maloney, with Central Connecticut-bound senior lefty Tyler Duffy, on Wednesday.

Newington, another CCC team who was a Class LL semifinalist last year, graduated 11 seniors.

“At this point, we’re still trying to see where we are and create an identity,” Newington coach Ben Alaimo said. “I’m excited about some of the young talent. We have several freshmen and sophomores who will play varsity, which is a good sign for the future.”

Coventry ready for another run: The Patriots, who lost to Haddam-Killingworth 6-2 in the Class S championship game last year, brings everyone back. “We were young so it was kind of impromptu run.” Coventry coach Ryan Giberson said. “The lights got a little bright for us.” Coventry’s senior shortstop is Evan Mendel, who will play at Maine next year, and he will also pitch (Mendel won two tournament games last year) and senior Ethan Hunt was the starting pitcher in the championship game. Other top players are two-time All-State centerfielder Gavin Covell, senior first baseman Nate Cordner, senior infielder Aidan Hecht and right fielder Jacob Wojtkowiak, who led the team in stolen bases. … Haddam-Killingworth coach Mark Brookes, who won his first state title in 46 seasons of coaching last year, lost five seniors but brings back some key players from the championship run, including Luke Mauri, who had a two-run double in the final. “It’s been a process of trying to find out who we can go with for starters, guys who can get outs in big spots,” Brookes said. … In the SCC, Xavier should be a threat, after losing in the first round of the Class LL tournament last year to Danbury. “It’s a different mindset now,” coach Nick Cerreta said. Nick Fox, who batted .480 last year and will play at Central Connecticut next season, is back at first and senior second baseman Colby Ciampi moved from shortstop where sophomore Cael Loria takes over.