SIMSBURY – A year ago, the Simsbury Sabercats struggled in the regular season of the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League winning only 10 of 29 games. Still, all six teams qualify for the playoffs and the Sabercats made the best of their second chance.
They made it to the league championship series, pushing Tobacco Valley to a decisive third game before the Renegades were able to beat the Sabercats and capture the pennant.
The Sabercats are looking for history to repeat again this summer. Once again, they won only 25 percent of their games, capturing just five of 20 games to finish sixth.
In the playoffs, only the top two teams get byes. The remaining four compete in a single-elimination qualifying round contest to earn a berth in the best-of-3 semifinals.
Simsbury erased a two-run deficit, stole home to score their first run of the game and seized command by scoring five runs in the fourth inning to eliminate the defending champion Renegades, 6-3 on Monday night at Memorial Field.
The Sabercats (6-15) keep their season alive and begin a three-game semifinal series on the road against either West Hartford (15-6) or Manchester (13-8) on Wednesday.
“The last two weeks we were playing a different level of baseball,” Simsbury coach Bill Silvanic said. “We get a little momentum in a game and it helps. You build confidence.
“All year along, they’ve been a team,” he said. “They’ve supported each other.”
Simsbury won three of its final five regular season games – an impressive feat for a team that lost 10 of its first 12 games.
“They know the regular season is a warmup,” Silvanic said. “It doesn’t make losing any more fun. But they came ready to play (in the playoffs).”
The Sabercats are made up of players from Avon (6), Granby (4), Simsbury (2), New Hartford (2) and Windsor (2). Players must be enrolled in college to play in the league. They don’t have to be playing for their school’s teams.
What went wrong for Simsbury in the early part of the season? Virtually everything. Some players left the team early in the season to play with Torrington in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
Simsbury struggled to hit the ball, throw strikes and play defense. “Poor defense tears the hearts out of the pitchers,” Silvanic said.
Solid defense from the Sabercats has been huge in the last few weeks. Simsbury didn’t make an error in the win over Tobacco Valley on Monday.
“We’ve hit our groove and now we’re starting to gell,” said Avon’s Jason Moore, an outfielder from St. Michael’s College in Vermont. “It’s just teamwork. We’re all working toward the same goal and we’re more comfortable with each other.”
Tobacco Valley (11-10) is a team made up of players primarily from Farmington and Canton had won five of their last seven games to close out the regular season.
The Renegades grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the first inning. They took a 1-0 lead on a RBI single from Farmington’s C.J. Schoenherr and extended it to 2-0 when Canton’s Brian Magna coaxed a walk from Sabercat starter Dan Reynolds.
Tobacco Valley left the bases loaded when Reynolds coaxed Farmington’s Ryan Viola to fly out to second base.
In the third, Simsbury cut the lead to one. Moore walked and took third on consecutive ground ball outs. With two outs, Granby’s Brady Gremelspacher walked and Moore scored on a double steal. Gremelspacher took off for second and Renegades catcher Brendan LaPorte fired the ball to second. Moore beat the throw home.
“Scoring that first run was important,” Moore said. “That broke the seal. We got more relaxed and began to play better.”
Tobacco Valley extended its lead to 3-1 in the third inning after two walks and a RBI double from Schoenherr.
Silvanic talked of the support that his Sabercats give each other. A teammate noticed a flaw in Reynolds’ throwing motion and mentioned it. Reynolds corrected it and after Schoenherr’s double in the third, Reynolds retired nine of the next 12 batters.
The Sabercats exploded for five runs in the fourth, sparked by a RBI single from New Hartford’s Adam Bittel and a two-RBI double from Simsbury’s Josh Holihan. The Renegades had just two hits the remainder of the game.
“The season went well for us. Everything got better as the season went along,” Tobacco Valley coach Mike Scott said. “We just had that one bad inning.”
Simsbury 6, Tobacco Valley 3
Simsbury 001 500 0 – 6-5-0
Tobacco Valley 201 000 0 – 3-5-2
Dan Reynolds, Tim Lusardi (6), Chris Smoolca (7) and Dan Bittel; Dave Kerkjza, Travis Lane (5) and Brenda LaPorte; WP: Reynolds; LP: Kerkjza; 2B: C.J. Schoeherr (TV); Sean Lanahan (S), Adam Bittel (S), Josh Holihan (S)
2013 CCBL final standings
West Hartford Thunder 15-6
Manchester Mavericks 13-8
Tobacco Valley Renegades 11-9
Southington Shock 11-9
Glastonbury Arrows 6-14
SImsbury Sabercats 5-15
Qualifying round (single elimination)
Simsbury 6, Tobacco Valley 3
Southington 7, Glastonbury 2
Simsbury vs. West Hartford
Game 1, July 24: Simsbury 7, West Hartford 1
Game 2, July 25: At Simsbury
Game 3, July 26: At West Hartford, if necessary
Manchester vs. Southington
Game 1, July 24: Manchester 8, Southington 1
Game 2, July 25: At Southington
Game 3, July 26: At Manchester, if necessary