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06/26/2022 12:00 AM

North Branford Baseball Played its Best Down the Stretch

Senior captain Dom Scalia collected a host of honors for a North Branford baseball squad that notched 16 victories while advancing in both of its postseason tournaments during the 2022 campaign.File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound

The North Branford baseball team spent the first half of the 2022 season trying to find the right lineup while establishing its identity. Once the Thunderbirds did that, Head Coach Billy Mitchell’s squad found its stride and finished the season strong, showing that the program has tremendous potential heading into next year.

North Branford completed its campaign with an overall record of 16-9. The T-Birds played their best baseball down the stretch by winning their last six games of the regular season before advancing to the semifinals of the Shoreline Conference Tournament and the quarterfinals of the Class S State Tournament. Coach Mitchell said that his players battled through every obstacle and worked hard to gain momentum by the end of the year.

“I thought we performed very well this year considering the circumstances we went through. We were losing guys for a week at a time. We had a couple injuries,” Coach Mitchell said. “They bounced back and kept their heads up. They stayed on course, and it showed later in the season. I was really proud of the team this year.”

In order to build momentum, the Thunderbirds had to find their identity. North Branford’s identity turned out to be strong pitching, solid defense, and an improved approach at the plate, along with the willingness of each athlete to grind it out to the final out of every contest.

Coach Mitchell had become accustomed to seeing his teams get out to solid starts. However, this year showed Mitchell the character of the people in his program and the potential of what’s to come down the road.

“Historically, we usually start off pretty quick. This was a different year for me,” said Mitchell. “We struggled to find our identity at the beginning of the year, but when we did, we started picking it up pretty well. It bodes well for next year, getting most of the guys back.”

After going 13-7 in the regular season, North Branford competed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament as the No. 5 seed and claimed a 6-5 win versus No. 4 Haddam-Killingworth in the quarterfinal round. The T-Birds then took an 8-3 defeat against top-seeded Valley Regional in the semifinals.

The Thunderbirds went on to participate in the Class S State Tournament as the No. 9 seed, earning victories over No. 24 Wamogo (19-2) and No. 8 Coginchaug (9-5) in the opening rounds of the draw. North Branford went on to take a 19-2 loss to No. 1 seed and eventual state champion St. Paul in a quarterfinal game.

Coach Mitchell said that the Thunderbirds started off both postseason tournaments hot before running into a couple of tough opponents. Despite those losses, Mitchell was proud of his team for playing hard during every round of the playoffs.

On the mound, North Branford was led by junior Cam Garrett this season. Garrett posted a record of 7-0 to go with 1 save on his way to earning All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors. Garrett’s save came in a 1-0 home win against Morgan where the T-Birds defeated Garret Garbinksi, who was later named the Shoreline Conference Pitcher of the Year. Coach Mitchell called that victory one of the biggest highlights of North Branford’s campaign.

The performances of Garrett and fellow pitcher, senior Michael Virginelli, helped North Branford fill the void of Nico DeSisto, a junior. DeSisto was slated to be one of the team’s top pitchers, but suffered an injury early in the season. The good news was that DeSisto returned for the end of the season, helping the T-Birds see success late in the campaign.

Coach Mitchell said that North Branford’s offense turned out to be better than he was anticipating coming into the year. Mitchell was happy with how the Thunderbirds used a smart approach at the plate to manufacture runs this spring.

North Branford’s senior captains for the 2022 season were first/third baseman Dom Scalia and catcher Ryan Michonski, who each garnered All-Shoreline Conference First Team and All-State First Team accolades. Coach Mitchell also noted the offensive production of junior shortstop John Onofrio, who was selected to the All-Shoreline Conference Second Team; and senior second baseman Ryan Nuzzo, who earned All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention.

While his captains were contributing on the field, Coach Mitchell also saw Scalia and Michonski do an excellent job of leading his team throughout the season. Scalia was selected as North Branford’s Most Valuable Player, while Michonski received the team’s Sportsmanship Award. After etching their legacy with the Thunderbirds, both captains will be moving on to play baseball at the collegiate level.

“We’re definitely going to miss them. Ryan Michonski and Dom Scalia are tremendous players,” Mitchell said. “They’re going on to play in college. They led us through the year.”

North Branford had six seniors on its roster at the end of the season. In addition to Scalia, Michonski, Virginelli, and Nuzzo, the T-Birds’ two other seniors were Ryan Anderson and Jake Chopus.

While he felt pleased with the leadership of his seniors, Coach Mitchell was also impressed with the play of three freshmen in JJ O’Connor, Matt Scalia, and Kyle Stegina. Mitchell expects North Branford to have another solid season next year. As the Thunderbirds look to come back strong, Mitchell believes that the experience his returning players have gained over the past few seasons will prove pivotal in 2023.

“All these guys were young last year and played last year. I threw them right in. They never had a freshman season. They did well last year, and this year they did really well. They’re progressing how I thought they would,” said Mitchell. “Next year, we’re going to be pretty strong. We have to replace our starting seniors, but we have a bunch of young guys coming up that I think could definitely fill that role.”

The North Branford baseball team’s varsity roster for the 2022 season included senior captains Dom Scalia and Ryan Michonski; seniors Ryan Anderson, Michael Virginelli, Ryan Nuzzo, and Jake Chopus; juniors Ben Stegina, Nico Falcioni, John Onofrio, Nico DeSisto, Cam Garrett, and Robert Dolzani; sophomores Victor Castillo and Caleb Allen; and freshmen JJ O’Connor, Matt Scalia, Kyle Stegina, and Jason Cosgrove.

Senior captain Ryan Michonski was presented with the Sportsmanship Award on behalf of the North Branford baseball team at the conclusion of the recent spring season. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound
Junior Cam Garrett pitched his way to a 7-0 record en route to a spot on the All-Shoreline Conference Team for the Thunderbirds this year. File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound