SIMSBURY, August 9 – There has always been a bit of a tug-of-war over Brian Magna’s athletic soul.
Magna was an exceptional runner at Canton High, earning All-State honors in cross country and indoor track. He earned All-New England honors in 2009 in cross country. As a freshman, he was good enough to earn a spot on the cross country and the track and field team at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.
But baseball is the game that Magna wants to play. He played varsity baseball at Canton High for four years, playing in the outfield and pitching. In his senior year, Canton won the NCCC championship for the first time and advanced to the Class S semifinals before being eliminated.
Now, the only running Magna does is on a baseball diamond. This past year, Magna gave up running to play baseball and try out for the Elon University program. He didn’t make the team but played an Elon club team.
This summer, he played with four of his former teammates from Canton High in the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League (CCBL), helping to lead the Tobacco Valley Renegades to their first league championship earlier this month.
In fact, Magna’s speed and fleet feet were a key component in Tobacco Valley’s championship season.
In game one of the CCBL’s best-of-3 championship series, Tobacco Valley was in extra innings with the Simsbury Sabercats tied at 1-1. Magna drew a one-out walk and moved to second on a balk by the pitcher.
Teammate A.J. Johnson hit a slow, rolling ball to the second baseman and Magna took off for third base. The second baseman turned to his left and threw the ball to first base for the second out of the inning. But Magna didn’t slow down. He had no intention of stopping at third base.
He never broke stride, sailed around third bases and raced for home. He slid in under the tag of Sabercats catcher Jason Moore with the game-winning run in a 2-1 Tobacco Valley victory in eight innings.
“He’s the only one who can do what he wants on the bases,” Tobacco Valley coach Joe Mancini said with a grin. Magna was a perfect 13-of-13 stealing bases for the Renegades this season.
Simsbury won game two, 7-6, thanks to a handful of errors by Tobacco Valley. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak by Tobacco Valley.
In the decisive game 3 of the CCBL championship series, Magna had five putouts in left field and one assist when he sprinted in for a ball that dropped in over the shortstop’s head and fired it to second base for an out. He also had two RBI in Tobacco Valley’s 7-2 win over the Sabercats to win the league title.
The Renegades had lost in the CCBL finals for the previous two seasons to Southington, which won the first three titles in league history.
Tobacco Valley had only 14 players on its roster but they were loyal, showing up at virtually each game. They earned the league’s best record (18-9). “They’re a very competitive group,” Mancini said. “They keep battling all the time (winning six 1-run games). They really meshed well together and they’re good friends.”
Magna was one of five Canton players on the team along with former Warriors Travis Lane, Aras Banevicius, Tyler Plourd and Andrew Crowley. Five Farmington players and two players each from New Britain and Branford filled out the roster. CCBL players must be enrolled in college to play in the league that also featured teams in Southington, West Hartford, Glastonbury and Manchester.
“This was a blast,” Magna said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was so much fun.” Magna hit just .253 but was able to get on base to score a team-leading 20 runs. He had 17 hits, a team-high 14 walks and was hit by pitches four times. Magna had four stolen bases in a 5-4 win in 10 innings over Glastonbury in the first round of the playoffs. He scored on an error in the 10th.
Lane was 6-2 on the mound in 58 innings pitched with 44 strikeouts and a 1.08 ERA, lowest among the four starting pitchers. He had a two-hitter in a win over Glastonbury earlier this season, a three-hit shutout in a win over Simsbury in June and a four-hitter with five strikeouts in a win over Manchester in July.
With several speedy outfielders, including Magna and Plourd, Crowley moved to first base and played well. He hit .264 with 19 hits and seven RBI. Plourd hit .253 with 18 hits and 12 RBI while Banevicius hit .211 with 10 hits and six RBI.
“Our pitching was outstanding and our defense was solid,” Mancini said. “Our outfielders (Magna, Pat Wollenberg, Plourd) could cover a lot of ground.”
Simsbury had five players from Avon, the most of any one town. Catcher Jason Moore and pitchers Brendan Telfer, Sean Lanahan, Jared Scheiker and Tyler Grouten played for the Sabercats but Grouten and Lanahan missed most of the season with injuries.
Simsbury High graduate Mike Zeiner played shortstop for the Sabercats while Granby’s Dorian Tanasi and Brady Gremelspacher also played. There were also players from Windsor, New Britain and New Hartford on the Sabercats.
“We struggled all year,” Simsbury coach Bill Silvanic said. “We knew we had good players. It was a matter of gelling and believing we could play. We lost some games we had no business losing.”
The Sabercats finished the regular season with a 10-19 record and in fifth place out of six teams. But Simsbury beat West Hartford, 3-1 in a one-game playoff and then swept a pair from Manchester (16-9) in the league semifinals, 6-3 and 4-2 to earn a spot in the finals with the Renegades.
In a 2-1, eight inning loss in game one of the finals, Sabercats pitcher Dan Reynolds scattered four hits and struck out six. In game two, Lane gave up just four hits to the Sabercats but Gavin Lavalee had a single and double.
In game three, Dan Bittel and Moore each had RBI singles in the first inning as Simsbury took a 2-0 lead. Simsbury finished with eight hits and left 12 men on base but couldn’t push across another run.
Sheiker, Simsbury’s starting pitcher, allowed just two hits and no runs in the first three innings. But he left the game when he was struck in the ankle with a hit with no outs in the fourth innings.
Tobacco Valley took advantage of two Sabercat errors and used an RBI single from Plourd, two walks and a hit batter (Magna) with the bases loaded to score five runs to seize control of the game.
2012 Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League
Tobacco Valley 18-9
West Hartford 13-11
Qualifying round (1 game)
Simsbury 3, West Hartford 1
Glastonbury 6, Southington 2
Simsbury def. Manchester, 2-0 (6-3, 4-2)
Tobacco Valley def. Glastonbury, 2-0 (5-4 in 10, 4-3)
Tobacco Valley def. Simsbury, 2-1 (2-1 in 8, 6-7, 5-2)