Senior-laden Barlow baseball team determined to rise to prominence
It’s no secret that recent history has not been favorable for the Joel Barlow High School baseball team.
The Falcons have not played in a South-West Conference championship game since the inception of the conference prior to the 1995-96 school year. Not even in 2002, when future major-leaguer Charlie Morton — who signed with the Houston Astros this past offseason — was the senior ace of their pitching staff and posted a 1.18 earned-run average with 78 strikeouts. Barlow last won a conference baseball championship in 1992 in the old Western Connecticut Conference — when current athletic director Michael Santangeli was a junior on the team.
Barlow hasn’t won a game in the state tournament since 2003, when it upset 11th-seeded Northwestern in the Class M first round. That dry spell includes an eight-year stretch, from 2006 to 2013, when the Falcons qualified for the state tournament only once, in 2009 — and lost 23-1 to top-seeded Seymour in the Class M first round as the 32nd seed. The Falcons have been one-and-done in the states each of the last three years.
Needless to say, it’s been rough on the Falcons.
But history doesn’t necessarily have to repeat itself.
In fact, this year’s senior-laden team is determined to change the course of history for the Barlow baseball program. And they might be just the team to do it.
Led by Class L All-State pitcher Andrew Johnson and first-team All-SWC catcher Mark D’Augelli, the Falcons have 11 seniors on their roster, all with varsity experience. If ever there was a season where the Falcons appeared ready to break through, this could be it.
“We’re really excited,” second-year coach Matt Griffiths said during a break in the action at Monday’s practice in the gym. “The amount of seniors we have and the experience they bring is huge, and it’s so rare. All of them have played on varsity for at least a year now, but it’s the talent level, too. So, you put those two things together, and it’s an exciting thing. We’re going to have three or freshmen on the team as well, which is an extremely talented group. Whenever you have that, it’s critical that you have older guys on the team who can be leaders. It’s really the best of both worlds in a lot of ways this year.”
The Falcons hope their efforts in the offseason will pave the way to success this year.
“We haven’t stopped working since the end of last season,” said senior right fielder Ryan Lutinski, who will head to Mount St. Mary College next year. “That’s when our season really started, at our last game in states last year.
“Basically, don’t sleep on the Falcons. We’ve got an exciting group of kids and we’re all really excited for this season.”
That state tournament game last year may very well have foreshadowed greater things to come for the Falcons. After missing the SWC tournament last year, Barlow entered the Class L state tournament as the 32nd and final seed. Behind an inspired pitching performance by Johnson, however, Barlow very nearly pulled off an improbable upset of top-seeded Bristol Eastern, but ended up losing 2-0. Johnson, who will head to Haverford College next year, pitched a complete game, struck out four, walked none and scattered 10 hits.
“Dating back to the end of last year, we knew that this year, our senior year, we could have something special, and we’ve all been just grinding this offseason trying to get ready,” Johnson said.
Looking back, it may not have been much more than a phantom blip on the radar screen for Bristol Eastern, which advanced to the state semifinals, but it may have given Barlow just the jolt it needed.
“It’s definitely a different feeling going into this year,” said D’Augelli, who will head to Wheaton next year. “We’re all feeling really confident. We’re all meshing together and the younger guys are stepping up, as well as the older guys.”
The Falcons came into training camp this year with a noticeable swagger.
“I feel like this is the most talented and most hard-working team we’ve had in my four years here, and we feel this is our best opportunity to win a championship,” said senior shortstop Matt McGannon, who will play for Vassar next year.
Baseball championships have been hard to come by at Barlow — but that’s ancient history.
And the future is looking pretty bright.