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West Haven between innings of championship game.
West Haven fans at championship game.
Lawrence, D’Addio, Croce, Pyrdol and Correia go out in style
By MIKE MADERA
MIDDLETOWN (June, 2009) – Four short years ago, a freshman class emerged on the scene in West Haven which had many observers taking notice. Winning championships with the Cyclones of the AAU and in the Orange Fall playoffs, this group came to West Haven with high expectations.
After three years, that group, which included Tom Lawrence, Tony D’Addio, Kevin Croce, Rich Pydol and Mark Correia, had nothing to show for it. As freshman, this group, which would later pick up a transfer from Notre Dame in Todd Tompkins, watched the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament and said one day they would be playing in it.
While that was accomplished this year, the journey from freshmen to seniors in the SCC tournament ended quickly as the top-seeded Westies were eliminated by the eighth-seed Cheshire Rams in the first round. The loss to Cheshire was part of a four-game losing streak to close the regular season and start the post season.
With time running out on this highly touted group if it wanted to make a name for itself, some soul searching, a couple of meetings and some good old-fashioned hard work got the team going in the right direction once again. Led by a solid senior group which cited the team chemistry on several occasions as a big reason for getting back to winning, West Haven took home its first state title since 1988 with a 1-0 victory over Brien McMahon-Norwalk last Saturday evening at Palmer Field.
“They have been around for four years,” West Haven coach Mike Anquillare said. “They have been a work in progress. We hit that slide at the end of the year and I talked to the coaches and captains to put a finger on it.
“We had to up our practice habits. I told them what they had to do and they believed in it. We had to find that little extra. We had to pick it up in practice. I complement the non-starters. They played as if they were starters to push everyone.”
Every member of this group played a big role in the state tournament and each made a big play in Saturday’s championship clincher. Senior pitching ace Tom Lawrence was at the top of the list.
Lawrence opened the tournament with a one-hitter in a win over Southington, then came back the following day to pitch three innings of scoreless relief and pick up the save in a second round win over New Britain.
Anquillare pitched Lawrence just once a week during the regular season to keep him fresh and ready for the postseason. That move would prove to be big in the state tournament.
“I definitely think it helped out,” Lawrence said. “Coach Ank (Anquillare) talked about that at the beginning of the year. I felt a lot stronger.”
After throwing 146 pitches in the first two rounds, the Winthrop-bound senior came back four days later to throw 113 more pitches in a quarterfinal victory over Cheshire. Four days later saw Lawrence defeat Shelton in the semifinals before his gem on Saturday helped the Westies take home the Class LL title and No. 1 ranking in the state.
Lawrence’s numbers in the tournament were staggering. In 31 innings of work, Lawrence allowed six runs on 24 hits. He struck out 40, walked nine and did all this with an astounding 484 pitches over a two week span.
“I had so much adrenaline going through me,” Lawrence said. “I wanted to win it with these guys. Everyone worked so hard. It started with conditioning in early December. We are together all the time. That made us stronger.”
Lawrence was 6-1 in the regular season. He struck out 64, walked 18 and had an earned run average of 1.14 in 49 1/3 innings of work.
Croce, who in 26 games combined hit .397, drove in 21 runs and had an on base percentage of .519, was the Westies’ secret weapon at the bottom of the order. The Westie left fielder hit a team-leading .449 in the regular season and came up big in the state tournament.
His home run in the fourth inning of the quarterfinals provided much needed insurance in a 3-2 win over Cheshire but it was his home run in the finals which will be one the Westies remember forever.
Croce’s home run to deep left leading off the third inning provided the only run Lawrence needed. Croce also made a big running catch for the second out of the seventh inning.
“Just to be here is a great honor,” Croce said. “A lot of people underestimated us. They kept asking are they for real? We just kept our composure
“We are a close team. We have played together a long time. We have been in big games. We play like a family. We are a fun family.”
Tompkins played a huge role both behind the plate and at the leadoff position. The Westie catcher was second on the team in hitting during the regular season with a .441 batting average.
Tompkins continued with the big hits in the postseason as his double in the first set the tone against New Britain in the second round. Tompkins finished the game with three hits and a run batted in and also drove in what proved to be the winning run with a single in the second inning against Shelton.
“I have no words to describe it,” Tompkins said. “I have been dreaming about this since I was 10. We have talked about this and we did it.
“In the beginning of the season, we got no respect. We had a big streak to start the year and we were 16-1. We had a little slump at the end of the year but that’s baseball. We liked playing the underdog role.”
It was his play behind the plate which may go unnoticed. Tompkins controlled the pitching staff, and specifically, was in sync with Lawrence throughout the tournament run.
Tompkins sealed the deal in the tournament clincher throwing out Eric Stenger attempting to steal third with cleanup hitter Todd Lyons batting in the first. He then picked off Zach Ruther with runners on first and second and two outs in the third with the game still scoreless.
“We all hang out together,” Tompkins said. “All twenty of us are a giant family.”
D’Addio hit .328 in the regular season and always seemed to come up with a big hit as his .355 batting average with runners in scoring position would attest to.
It was D’Addio’s glove, however, which steadied the defense. His play to end the fifth inning in the clincher put West Haven six outs away from the title.
“This means a lot,” D’Addio said. “There is a lot of history in West Haven. A championship has been missing all these years.
“A lot of people thought we were an overrated age group. They always doubted us. But, we proved we are a good squad. In the beginning of the year, when the rankings came out and we were not in them, coach Anquillare said it is not where you are now but where you are at the end of the year. We wanted to be the best team at the end of the year.”
D’Addio had a big hit in the third inning of the opening round game against Southington to score a run and his first inning single against Shelton in the semifinals extended the two-run inning.
With that first inning extended, Correia made sure it did not go to waste as his single drove in Lawrence, giving West Haven a 2-1 lead it never relinquished.
Correia made several outstanding pick ups in the tournament, none bigger than in the sixth inning of Saturday’s title game. After shortstop Dave Riccio made a beautiful stop of a hard drive by Ruther, his throw short-hopped Correia at first. Correia came up with the ball and kept the speedy Ruther off base, which would prove critical when McMahon followed with two runners on base in the inning.
“This is really big for us,” Correia said. “We have waited since we were 12 years old. We wanted our third title together. This one means a lot.
“We are a really close group. We spend a lot of time together. Being together as a team is part of the game. It was definitely a big role in it.”
Correia was West Haven’s number two pitcher and finished the regular season with a 4-1 record. He struck out 42 and walked just 7 in 28 2/3 innings of work.
Pyrdol snapped out of a late-season slump right from the start of the tournament. He picked up a single in the opener against Southington, added two more against New Britain and doubled against Shelton.
Pyrdol also made several nice plays defensively, showing off his strong arm. His catch of a Jack Culnane fly ball to start the seventh kept the momentum on West Haven’s side.
“Ever since we won that fall ball state championship, we had that vibe,” Pyrdol said. “We play as a team. Everyone picks everyone up. We treat everyone as family.”
Pyrdol was 2-0 in the regular season, striking out 27 and walking 11 in 19 innings of work. He finished with a 2.21 earned run average.
As the dust began to settle and the players awaited boarding the bus for the ride home, Lawrence summed up the season and his career best.
“It was a great way to finish it off,” Lawrence said. “It is the last time I will play for the Blue and White. To pitch for West Haven in the championship game and pitch a shutout is pretty awesome.”
Westies beat McMahon to take home first state title in 21 years
By MIKE MADERA
MIDDLETOWN (June, 2009) – West Haven ace Tom Lawrence wanted to be sure coach Mike Anquillare had no doubts in his mind Lawrence would be ready to start Saturday evening’s Class LL championship game. To reinforce the fact, Lawrence, who had thrown 376 pitches in four games to open the tournament, was waiting outside Anquillare’s office on Friday with the news.
One day later and 21 years after their last state championship, Lawrence and the No. 4 Westies defeated No. 27 Brien McMahon – Norwalk 1-0 at Palmer Field to take home the CIAC Class LL championship and the No. 1 ranking in the state.
“He (Lawrence) was just incredible,” Anquillare said about his ace. “It was just a gutsy performance. The kid was throwing on short rest. He threw the ball great. He mixed his pitches.
“I think he started to feel it once we got that run. It was just another gutsy performance from a kid who pitched 31 of our 35 innings in the tournament.”
Lawrence, as he was all tournament, was masterful. The Winthrop-bound senior allowed six hits, struck out eight and walked just one batter.
Lawrence was consistent the entire game as his first fastball of the contest to Zach Ruther was clocked at 89 mph and the last pitch, a fastball to strike out Matt Restivo, was also 89 mph. In between, Lawrence kept McMahon off balance, mixing in a consistent 72 mph breaking ball.
“I wanted the ball,” Lawrence said. “I felt good. There was a lot of adrenaline going through me. I actually think I got stronger as the game went on.
The run for West Haven was impressive as the Westies struggled to close the year. A four game skid, three to close the regular season and another to start the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament, had many wondering if the Westies could get that confidence back before the state tournament.
The Westies responded in emphatic fashion. With Lawrence pitching all but four innings of the tournament, West Haven had a swagger back it had been missing. Saturday night at Palmer Field was no different.
Kevin Croce, a .400 hitter in the regular season batting eighth, provided the only run support the Westies needed. His home run to lead off the third inning traveled deep to left and gave the Westies a 1-0 lead. The home run was Croce’s second of the tournament.
“I hit a good pitch,” Croce said. “I just stuck to the game plan. I adjust to the change and sit fastball, dead red. I owe it all to coach (Anquillare). He gives us a game plan and I just stuck to it.”
The home run was one of only two mistakes made by Senator pitcher Todd Lyons. He allowed a two-out double to Mark Correia in the second but that was the only other hit West Haven picked up. A walk to Mike Binkowski in the fifth was the second and last runner on the bases for West Haven.
“It was a great game,” Anquillare said. “That kid (Lyons) pitched an excellent game. Kevin Croce came up with a big hit.
“For 26 games, every day in the huddle, we said give 100% every game, every inning, every out and every pitch. The kids have another motto saying nobody is beating us today.”
With Lyons on his game, Lawrence and his defense needed to be on theirs. It was apparent both were ready from the start.
Senator Eric Stenger hit a one-out double in the first and attempted to steal third with two outs and clean-up hitter Lyons at bat. Westie catcher Todd Tompkins easily nailed Stenger with a perfect throw to Tony D’Addio at third to end the inning.
After Lawrence struck out Restivo to open the third, singles by Taso Petridis and Ruther had the Senators mounting another threat. But, the Westies escaped without damage as Stenger hit a fly ball to left and Tompkins picked off a wandering Ruther at first to end the inning.
That play had the Westies fired up and Croce capitalized in the bottom of the inning. His long and high homer to left brought the Westies out of the dugout and gave Lawrence more fuel to get the job done.
“The home run was big,” Lawrence said. “It fired me up. It fired us all up.”
Lawrence ended the fourth by striking out Dillon Roberts with an 88 mph fastball. Dave Riccio then made a nice defensive play at short to nail Brian Daniello after Jack Culnane had opened the fifth with a strikeout. That play would be big as Restivo followed with a single before D’Addio easily fielded a grounder by Petridis to end the frame.
Riccio and Correia teamed up for the biggest play of the game for West Haven in the sixth. With the top of the order up, Riccio took a step towards second moments before Ruther slapped a hard drive up the middle.
That extra step allowed Riccio to just get to the hard shot and fire towards Correia. The Westie first baseman scooped a low throw to just barely get Ruther to start the inning. After Stenger struck out, Ken Coppola singled to left and Lyons walked.
“Every time Tommy Lawrence is on the mound, I always expect the best,” Riccio said. “I feel like we can all come around and make big plays. We did that tonight.”
Instead of having the bases loaded with one out, McMahon had two runners on with two outs. When Roberts’ line drive found its way to John Ascenzia at second, West Haven was three outs away from its first state title since 1988.
“Our defense has been spectacular all year especially in the playoffs,” Anquillare said. “We work really hard on our defense. We spend a lot of our practices on defense. It showed.”
Lawrence started the seventh by getting Culnane on a fly ball to Rich Pyrdol in right then got Daniello on a fly to left which Croce caught while running towards the foul line.
With two strikes on Restivo, Lawrence fired his 108th and final pitch of the game for a high 89 mph fastball which Restivo missed, sending the Westies pouring towards the mound to celebrate a title which had been missing for 21 years.
“It’s been a long time,” Anquillare said as he was preparing to leave the field and greet a host of well-wishers before boarding the team bus home. “We were standing in the gym the first day of the year and I told the kids to take a look at that state championship banner. I said to them there is one spot next to that 1988 team with nothing in it. This year we are going to fill that spot.
“You talk about the ’80s and I used to recall hearing about that Westie swagger. That’s what we were trying to bring back, some of that ’80s, early ’90s swagger.
“This was not just us. We want to thank everyone who contributed to the success of the West Haven baseball program.”
West Haven has gotten that swagger back. Now it will need to get a new banner started.
On to the Finals
Westies ride the arm of Lawrence to state title game
By MIKE MADERA
MIDDLETOWN – West Haven pitcher Tom Lawrence has had a workhorse attitude since he stepped on the field at West Haven High four years ago. Never has he proved this more than the last week of the CIAC state tournament.
After throwing 146 pitches in 10 innings of work through the first two rounds of the Class LL tournament and adding 113 more in the quarterfinal win over Cheshire, Lawrence came back on three days rest to defeat Shelton 3-2 in the semifinals at Palmer Field. The semifinal contest saw Lawrence throw 117 more pitches, clearly without his best stuff.
The powerful senior showed smarts throughout the game, locating his pitches and keeping the Gaels off balance. Lawrence seemed to get stronger in the final three innings, at one point striking out three of four batters.
“As the game went on, I actually felt stronger,” Lawrence said. “My curve and slider looked good.
“This is big. West Haven has been kind of down a bit but we want to turn that around. This (reaching state championship) is awesome. It is something I have dreamed about since I was 10.”
With a 3-2 lead, Lawrence had one more hurdle to conquer in the seventh inning before West Haven could play in its first title game since 1994, a loss to Carl Pavano and Southington. That hurdle included facing the top of the Gael batting order.
Lawrence responded. He got speedy leadoff hitter Mike Sarni on a comebacker to the mound before yielding a single to Eric Christensen.
A passed ball by catcher Todd Tompkins allowed Christensen to go to second but Lawrence got the second out by striking out Gael starting pitcher Dan St. George. The game would end in fitting fashion with the ball in Lawrence’s hands as a grounder to first baseman Mark Correia was flipped to Lawrence for the final out.
Lawrence finished the game allowing nine hits and striking out six. The Westie ace walked just one batter.
“He (Lawrence) was a pitcher tonight,” West Haven coach Mike Anquillare said. “He worked in and out and he was tough right to the end. He scattered their hits.
“He wanted the ball. When your ace wants the ball, you give it to him. He is a gutsy kid.”
The game did not start in fine fashion for the Westies as an error by Correia led to a first inning run by the Gaels. Sarni led off by reaching on the error, stole second with one out and scored on St. George’s single to center. Lawrence escaped damage with two runners on by getting Jim Pjura on a grounder to John Ascenzia at second.
While Lawrence was the obvious star of the game, the play of Dave Riccio may have won it. From the opening pitch, Riccio was on his game at bat and in the field.
His biggest play, however, took place without a glove or bat in his hand. With the Westies trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Ascenzia hit a one-out single and Riccio walked. When Lawrence hit what looked to be an inning ending double play ball, Riccio saved the day.
His hard slide into second forced Sarni into a bad throw which Nick Georgalas could not handle at first. Instead of an inning ending double play, Ascenzia scored to knot the game at one. Tony D’Addio followed with a single and Correia singled to center, scoring Lawrence for a 2-1 lead.
“That was huge,” Anquillare said. “It was huge to get an early lead. They got a run and we answered right back. We talked about that half inning after they score and I thought we did a nice job to get that run back.”
West Haven added another run in the second off St. George which would prove to be the winner. Kevin Croce opened the inning by reaching on Andy Price’s error at third and moved to second on a sacrifice by Rich Pyrdol. Tompkins followed by lacing a single by Georgalas at first to score Croce for a 3-1 lead.
Riccio helped preserve the lead in the third when he made an off balanced throw to nail Christensen to open the inning. That play would loom large as Georgalas hit a two-out triple and scored on Mike Manzo’s single. Instead of a tie game, West Haven held a one-run lead.
While St. George was settling down, Riccio would save the game in the fifth. His off-balanced throw on a chopper by Sarni barely got the leadoff batter to start the inning.
Riccio’s play was big as Christensen reached on Lawrence’s error and St. George reached on an infield single. After Georgalas popped to first for the second out, Manzo hit another single to load the bases. On his 86th pitch of the night, Lawrence blew a fastball by Pjura to end the inning.
“It (Sarni’s grounder) was a slow chopper,” Riccio said. “We work on that day in and day out. It was the same play Coach (Anquillare) works with us on I just took my time. It is all about composure in a big game. We have to make the plays.
“It feels tremendous. I grew up with these guys in Little League, Babe Ruth and (American) Legion. There is no better group I could ask for than these guys. I love every one of them.”
The fifth inning would prove to be the turning point as St. George allowed only two runners before hitting Correia to lead off the sixth. Peter Jay relieved and got Mike Binkowski to hit into a double play after Binkowski twice failed to sacrifice. Jay threw six pitches in the inning, all for strikes.
Georgalas led Shelton with a single and triple while Manzo had two hits and drove in a run.
“We have been talking about this (playing in a state championship) for years,” D’Addio said. “It is just unbelievable. We have a chance to achieve our goal.”
Westies defeat New Britain
Correia and Lawrence shut down Golden Hurricanes
By MIKE MADERA
WEST HAVEN (June, 2009) – West Haven pitching ace Tom Lawrence got the Westies started on the right foot in the CIAC Class LL state tournament by firing a one-hitter in a complete game victory over Southington in the first round. Lawrence threw 106 pitches and knew he would definitely be ready if the Westies qualified for the quarterfinal round.
What Lawrence also knew was he was going to ask for the ball if the Westies were in any trouble in last Tuesday afternoon’s second round game against New Britain. With Mark Correia laboring through four innings, Lawrence came on in the fifth inning, threw 40 pitches and sealed the 8-1 victory over the Golden Hurricanes.
West Haven (18-5) advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinal game against Cheshire. Despite winning both regular season contests, the Westies were defeated in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament by the Rams.
“I did not have much on my fastball,” Lawrence said. “I was trying to get them to hit ground balls.
“This (state title) is something we all have wanted since we were ten. We have been turning it on.”
While Lawrence picked up the save with his scoreless three innings, the West Haven defense bailed Correia out early and sent the momentum permanently to the Westies. West Haven scored single runs in the first two innings and never looked back.
“Mark Correia went four innings and that was what we planned,” West Haven coach Mike Anquillare said. “He did exactly what we wanted to do.
“Tommy Lawrence wanted the ball if the game was on the line. If he wants it, we are going to give it to him.”
Correia was in trouble from the start, walking leadoff hitter Alan Nunez. A single by Brian Rivera had runners on the corners before Rivera stole second with one out.
Colin McLeod, the fourth batter in the New Britain lineup, followed with a sharp grounder to Tony D’Addio at third. D’Addio fired home to Todd Tompkins who tagged Nunez out for the second out of the inning. Rivera was then caught off third and the Westies had dodged a bullet early.
“We are starting to play like we did in the beginning of the year,” Anquillare said. “We have been working on it at practice. A typical play in the beginning of the game was when they had first and third. We work on defending that play. It was basic fundamentals.”
West Haven wasted no time responding. Tompkins, who finished the day with three hits, started the first with a sharp double to the gap in left center. A wild pitch moved Tompkins to third where he scored on Dave Riccio’s single to left.
“I have been seeing the ball good,” Tompkins said. “I have to keep my weight back on the breaking balls.
“We got a lot of clutch hits today. We are coming up with clutch hits and that is what is carrying us.”
In the second, Correia led off with a single before a fielder’s choice by Mike Binkowski, a walk to Kevin Croce and a single by Rich Pyrdol had West Haven set up. Tompkins delivered, driving in West Haven’s second run for a 2-0 lead.
New Britain had runners on base in every inning and finally capitalized in the third. After Correia struck out the first two batters to open the inning, Chris Linares singled and stole second. Linares would score on an infield single by Rivera to cut the deficit in half.
After West Haven left two runners on base in the third and New Britain left Conor Kane on third in the fourth with the tying run, the Westies broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth. An inning which saw everything go against the Golden Hurricanes would prove to be the difference in the game.
Tompkins started the one-out rally with a single to center and moved to third on John Ascenzia’s double down the line in left. New Britain chose to intentionally walk Riccio, but that move backfired when pitcher Tyler Kapushinski walked Lawrence to force in Tompkins.
D’Addio followed by hitting a fly ball to center. Ascenzia beat the throw home by Nunez and when first baseman Matthew Martinez tried to nail Riccio going to third, a wild throw allowed Riccio to score with a beautiful slide around catcher Colin McLeod. Lawrence was thrown out trying to go to third on the play but West Haven had scored three times in the inning to put the Golden Hurricanes away.
“Todd Tompkins has been swinging a good bat all year,” Anquillare said. “He had a little rough patch at the end of the season but he has gotten some clutch hits. We are all swinging pretty well.
New Britain coach Brian Crowley argued Ascenzia left early which would have nullified both Ascenzia and Riccio’s runs but his argument went for naught.
The Golden Hurricanes tried to get back in the game but left a runner on third for the second straight inning in the fifth. New Britain’s final shot came in the sixth, but Ascenzia single-handedly denied that threat.
McLeod and Mike Sturgess hit one-out singles to put runners on the corners. Kane then followed with a line drive to second. Ascenzia snared the line shot and fired to first for an inning-ending double play.
“We have been playing all seven innings,” Ascenzia said. “Toward the end of the season, we played three or four innings then died out.
“We are getting two-out hits. We are getting hits with men in scoring position. We have to keep it up.”
The Westies then sealed the deal in the sixth. Tompkins’ third hit of the game opened the inning and was followed by a walk to Ascenzia. Lawrence delivered both with a double to right before he scored on Correia’s single to left.
Tompkins led the Westies with three hits and a run batted in. Correia added two hits and drove in a run, while Pyrdol also had a pair of hits. Rivera led New Britain with two hits.
Mike Anquillare and Kevin Croce after Croce's homer.
2009 State Champs
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Mike Anquillare with son Michael
John Ascenzia (6) and Tommy Lawrence (r.)
2009 State Champs
Kevin Croce home run in championship game..
Tommy Lawrence with championship plaque
West Haven state championship game
West Haven championship game
2009 State Champs
West Haven championship game
Mike Anquillare (l.) and Tommy Lawrence (r.)
Mike Anquillare with daughter Alexandra
West Haven coach Mike Anquillare with championship plaque
Todd Tompkins receives his championship medal
West Haven celebrates Kevin Croce's homer.
Tommy Lawrence throws a pitch in state championship game.