Warriors Start New Season with 6-5 Win Over North Branford
After enjoying a solid season in 2021, Head Coach Brian Drinkard and the Valley Regional baseball team are returning to the ballfield with plenty of talent for the 2022 campaign—and they’re already off to a great start. The Warriors played a road game versus North Branford in their season opener and rallied for a 6-5 win over the Thunderbirds on April 2.
Valley posted an overall record of 15-7 and claimed a share of the Shoreline Conference title last year. While he was pleased with what his team achieved, Coach Drinkard doesn’t want the Warriors to rest on the laurels of that success as they dive into a new season.
“We don’t have any expectations this season other than winning as many games as we can,” Coach Drinkard said. “Last year is over, and that was a different team. We lost eight seniors and two underclassmen who decided not to come back. We are a well-balanced team, and anyone in our lineup is capable of stepping up and having a big season.”
Junior Brayden Sparaco took the hill for Valley when it faced North Branford in its first game of the year last weekend. Sparaco tossed 5 innings and allowed just 2 runs on 5 hits for the Warriors. Junior Colin Carver pitched 2 innings, including a 1-2-3 seventh, to pick up the win in the 6-5 victory.
Senior captain James Marsden led the way for Valley at the plate by going 3-for-4 with 4 RBI and 2 runs scored. Junior Mason Erwin went 2-for-3 with a run scored, and senior captain Andrew Salbinski was 1-for-2 with a triple, a walk, and a pair of runs.
With Valley trailing 5-3 entering the top of the seventh inning, Erwin hit a single and then Salbinski drew a walk to get the Warriors started. Marsden followed by clubbing a triple that scored both runners to tie the game, after which the senior captain came home on a single by Carver to give Valley a 6-5 advantage.
“James is an absolute beast for us, and he was the stud of this game,” said Drinkard. “All in all, he accounted for all six runs we scored in this game, and he’s going to be a force this season in the Shoreline Conference. I’m excited to see him succeed out there.”
Salbinski earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors for the Warriors last year, while Coach Drinkard was named the conference’s Coach of the Year. Valley’s senior class for the 2022 season also features Jack Guthrie, Finn Grabowski, Kyle Ghilani, Oscar Pelkey, and Kevin Willets-Johnson.
The Warriors’ junior corps additionally includes Reed Beighau, Brayden Shea, Sam Hutchinson, Lucas Rogers, Luke Buccaro, Jack Finnegan, Mason Erwin, and Henry Breckenfeld. Sophomore Aiden Babek and freshmen Braden Karcich and Caleb Winkley are also members of the varsity roster for Coach Drinkard’s squad.
“We have a lot of talent this year. Our captains have been doing a great job with all the underclassmen and getting them geared to go. They are both planning on playing at the next level in college and rightfully so,” Drinkard said. “We also have a really strong junior class with guys like Sam and [Sparaco] leading us. Sam was strong all season last year, and I expect him to be another solid player for us this year.”
Coach Drinkard just can’t get enough of the game and feels excited to be in his ninth season with the Valley baseball program. Aside from being the Warriors’ skipper, Drinkard has also taught physical education within the Valley school system for the past 14 years.
“I like the everyday behind-the-scenes stuff that no one really gets to see,” said Drinkard. “At the end of the day, these are just kids. Sometimes my favorite moments are when we’re at practice, and we’re just keeping it light with each other. There’s nothing better than laughing with all of the team and just having a good time.”
Valley will square off against the likes of familiar foes such as Morgan, Haddam- Killingworth, East Hampton, Cromwell, Westbrook, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Coginchaug, Hale-Ray, and Portland in its Shoreline Conference contests this spring. The Warriors also have non-conference games with Canton, Woodstock Academy, Waterford, and Putnam on their schedule.
“It’s a tough schedule for sure,” Coach Drinkard said. “I never want to hype these kids up too much, because then it puts unnecessary pressure on them. I want them to go out there game after game and just give it their all, and I think we will see good results in the end. This a really talented group we have, and we all know what we are capable of.”
Drinkard is joined by assistants Nick Mardjekaj and Charlie Wolfe on his coaching staff for the 2022 season. Drinkard said that both coaches have already been a huge help to the program in the early going.
“This is a total team effort from all of us. Without these guys by my side, we wouldn’t be the team that we are right now, and I’m very grateful to have them working with me,” said Drinkard. “All of the kids on the team have bought in to what we want from this program, and I’m excited to see how this season plays out for us.”