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06/19/2022 12:00 AM

Grizzlies See a Tremendous Turnaround on the Ballfield

Senior captain Mike Torre and the Guilford baseball team made a huge turnaround by improving from a 2-18 record last year to go 12-11 this season. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

The Guilford Grizzlies had one thing in mind heading into the 2022 baseball season: Win more games. Coming off of a difficult campaign, the Grizzlies accomplished their goal and then some by improving from 2 wins to 12 victories to go along with a pair of playoff berths this year.

Head Coach Nick Merullo knew how tough last season was for his players and felt excited for the opportunity to turn things around in his second year as the Grizzlies’ skipper. Guilford’s athletes were determined to have a solid season wound up posting an overall record of 12-11, making appearances in both the SCC Tournament and the Class L State Tournament and then winning a game in the state bracket.

“It’s easy to motivate guys when you’ve had some success. It could be hard to motivate yourself or your teammates after a difficult year like the one we had last year, where we only won two games,” Coach Merullo said. “These guys really wanted to put that behind them and prove that we were much more capable of what we had done a year ago.”

After losing its first two games of the season, Guilford started to get on track by posting shutout victories over Wilbur Cross (10-0) and East Lyme (7-0). Those two wins gave the Grizzlies a boost of confidence, and they were well on their way to surpassing the results of last year.

Coach Merullo saw the effort that Guilford’s players gave during the offseason start to pay dividends as the 2022 campaign unfolded. Merullo felt that the Grizzlies’ hard work had them prepared to put together a much-better showing this spring.

“They really made a commitment to getting better. I’m just proud of the work those guys put in in the offseason,” said Merullo. “So many of our players continued to get better throughout the course of the year, responding to coaching, picking each other up when the going got tough, and really just being good teammates.”

Guilford played several back-and-forth contests that were decided by a single run this year. After taking one-run defeats against Hand and Hamden, the Grizzlies had a record of 6-9 and had lost four games in a row entering the home stretch of the regular season. Still, the goal of reaching the eight victories needed to make the playoffs was within reach, and Guilford’s players gave a courageous effort to secure their postseason berth, winning a couple of one-run decisions along the way.

“The real highlight for us was the way the team finished out the regular season. With five games to go, we rattled off five-consecutive victories and were able to ride that into a berth into the SCC Tournament, which is a great experience for our players,” Coach Merullo said. “That was a huge step, winning those tight games. To beat those guys in a tight game late in the year, that again just showed us that we’re capable of playing with anybody around.”

The Grizzlies peaked at the right time by finishing the regular season on a five-game win streak. Coach Merullo was beyond proud of how his team performed in crunch time, pointing out Guilford’s 4-3 win over Amity and its come-from-behind, 4-3 walk-off victory versus Notre Dame-West Haven as huge moments for the team. Junior shortstop Carter Williams hit the game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning against Notre Dame to launch the Grizzlies into postseason play.

Guilford opened the postseason by taking a 6-1 loss to dominant Fairfield Prep team in the first round of the SCC Tournament. One week later, the Grizzlies had a date with Masuk in the first round of the Class L Tournament and won the contest by a 4-1 score. Sophomore Bryce Meder tossed a complete game for Guilford, striking out 9 batters in 7 innings pitched, in addition to hitting a key 2-run triple late in the game.

“We came out with a really exciting win. It was a back-and-forth pitchers’ duel,” said Merullo. “Bryce Meder not only pitched an outstanding game on the mound, but delivered a huge hit, a triple to right field, to put us up a couple runs.”

The Grizzlies went on to take a 5-2 defeat to No. 1 seed and eventual Class L champion Windsor in the second round of states. Despite the loss, Coach Merullo knew that Guilford’s late-season run, led by six impactful seniors, was something for everything in the program to feel proud about.

“We hung tough with great teams all year, so we’re excited about this year. We’re thankful for the effort that our graduating seniors put in,” Merullo said. “The guys coming back are excited to get to work next year and hopefully continue to build upon this season’s success.”

Guilford’s senior class included co-captains Mike Torre and Aiden McBrierty, along with Max Corbett, Tyler Zajkowski, Ethan Clark, and Chris Golino. Torre led the team in hits with 31 while posting a .388 batting average with 18 RBI on the year. The center fielder was also one of three members of the Grizzlies to be honored as All-SCC player. Coach Merullo feels thankful to have experienced such a successful season alongside an amazing class of seniors.

“I think they have something to be tremendously proud of, leaving with a win in the State Tournament,” said Merullo. “We’ll certainly miss that leadership and the presence of those six guys, six great teammates that are moving on to endeavors in college now.”

Williams and Meder also garnered All-SCC accolades for the Grizzlies this season. Williams had the highest batting average on the team at .392 clip to go with 20 RBI. Meder was Guilford’s ace on the mound, finishing the year with a team-leading 4 victories and an ERA of 2.26.

Coach Merullo is still soaking in what the 2022 edition of the Guilford baseball team achieved. Merullo said that it’s too early to place any expectations on the next year’s team right now, but he’s anticipating that his players are going to continue working hard during the offseason in an effort to make 2023 another solid campaign on the ballfield.

“The main thing is for the players to continue to develop their game over the offseason, to continue to form good relationships and bonds not only teammate to teammate, but from players to coaches as well, just to establish that trust and good connectivity that many teams thrive upon,” Merullo said. “We want to prove that we’re capable of hanging with the top teams in our league. If we can play tough with the top teams there, I know we will be in good shape.”

The Guilford baseball team’s roster features senior captains Mike Torre and Aiden McBrierty; seniors Max Corbett, Tyler Zajkowski, Ethan Clark, and Chris Golino; juniors Brendan Skoglund, Cole Vashel, Carter Williams, Jack Farrah, Alex Vincent, Preston Markham, Cole Morgan-Berry, Sam Ametrano, and Andrew Shosho; sophomores Bryce Meder, Colin Pompano, Joe Tafro, and Michael Buccaro; and freshman Lucas Deshefy.

Senior captain Aiden McBrierty and the Grizzlies played their best baseball down the stretch on their way to making both SCCs and states in 2022 campaign. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Sophomore Bryce Meder pitched a complete game and hit a big 2-run triple to help Guilford claim a 4-1 victory against Masuk in the first round of the Class L State Tournament. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier