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Sophomore Kyle Metz and the Valley Regional baseball team picked up two wins to move to a 5-4 record on the season last week. Metz had a big moment when he hit a two-run homer in a wild come-from-behind 14-11 win over Griswold on April 18. (File photo by Catherine Avalone/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain catcher Josh Ross (right) is proving a steady presence behind the plate and in the dugout for the Valley Regional baseball squad this spring. (File photo by Catherine Avalone/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior Chris Sparaco (left) and the Warriors improved to 5-4 after winning two of three during a week that saw Valley play back-to-back-back games. (File photo by Catherine Avalone/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Valley Regional baseball team is off to a steady start in the first half of the 2019 season. The Warriors hold a record of 5-4 following a week that saw them win two of their three games. After going 13-10 during the 2018 campaign, Valley is aiming to build on that performance with a diverse group of players in Brian Drinkard’s second year as head coach.
Coach Drinkard feels that the Warriors are in a good place as they enter the latter half of their season. While talent goes a long way in any sport, baseball tends to have a lot of variance in any given game. As his roster is currently constituted, Drinkard believes that Valley can pose problems for anyone in the Shoreline Conference and see postseason success this spring.
“The Shoreline is tough, and you just want to be in the position to be in the tournament. Then if you get in the tourney, then you have a chance to win it. We just want to make sure we’re playing or best baseball at that time,” Coach Drinkard said. “These kids are talented, and I feel like we’re prepared. As long as we show up every day ready to play and the ball bounces our way a few times, we should be good.”
In last week’s action, Valley Regional posted road victories over Westbrook (13-3) and Griswold (14-11), while taking a home loss against New London. The Warriors started off their week by notching their lopsided win versus Shoreline Conference opponent Westbrook on April 16. Freshman pitcher Jake Robertson got the win on the mound while allowing only one earned run and striking out seven for Valley. He also helped his cause by going 3-for-4 with two RBI at the dish. Coach Drinkard said that Robertson was in control on mound and got a big boost of confidence when the Warriors gave him an early lead.
“We got one in the first and then four in the third to get up 5-0. Jake was dealing, so we felt really comfortable with him out there,” said Drinkard. “He’s been great. He’s been out there three times. The opener against North Branford, they were raking the ball, but he bounced back with a win his next game. Every time he goes out there, we have a chance to win.”
The next day, Valley lost to formidable non-conference opponent New London by the final score of 14-1.
Then on April 18, the Warriors played a wild, high-scoring game and picked up a 14-11 road win against Griswold in another non-conference matchup. Valley trailed Griswold 9-4 after the fourth inning, when Coach Drinkard put senior Chris Sparaco into the game to try and slow down the Wolverines’ offense. Valley scored two runs in the top of the fourth inning and three more in the fifth to tie it up at 9-9. The Warriors took a 10-9 lead in the sixth inning and then tacked on four more runs in the seventh. Griswold got a couple of runs back in the bottom of the seventh, but it was too little, too late.
In addition to earning the win in relief, Sparaco went 3-for-4 with three RBI for Valley. Sophomore Kyle Metz clubbed a two-run home run, while Ben Conrad went 3-for-4 with a key RBI.
Coach Drinkard said the victory over Griswold was a typical win for Valley this season. Drinkard had to go deep into his bench for specific situations, while mixing and matching pitchers, and that strategy seems to be paying off for the Warriors thus far.
“It’s really crazy this year. I’m using a bunch of kids in all kinds of different spots and roles. We have a lot of moves that we make during the game,” said Drinkard. “We have six pitchers working hard to go out in whatever game they can this year and, if a guy doesn’t have it, we can get someone else in to help out.”
With several contributors up and down the bench, catcher Josh Ross is serving as Valley Regional’s lone senior captain this year. Coach Drinkard said that everyone on the Warriors’ roster is following Ross’s lead.
“Josh Ross is the captain of this team,” Drinkard said. “The reason I have only one captain is, if you asked every kid in the program before the start of the season who the leader of the team was, every single one of them would say that it was Josh.”
The Warriors have had to deal with some nagging injuries this year, but the good news is that they’re healing up, and the team is meshing together as the campaign unfolds. Senior leadoff hitter Jeff Sypher came back from an injury last week and went 4-for-4 in the win versus Griswold. Coach Drinkard said that Valley missed Sypher’s ability to set the table while he was out.
“Sypher got in the second half of the New London game and got a couple of hits. He got a pinch hit in the Westbrook game, too. Since he’s been back, he’s 6-for-7,” said Drinkard. “We definitely missed his fire on our team. He’s a leader on the field. He gets pumped up, and he gets the other kids pumped.”
Coach Drinkard believes that Valley Regional is capable of defeating any team it faces. While Drinkard wants the Warriors to win as many games as possible, he also wants his athletes to have fun while they’re playing baseball.
“They’re just a great group of kids, and we’re having fun having a decent season. We’re trying not to get too high on the wins or too low on the losses. We should be able to win a good amount of games and do some damage in the postseason, especially if we get hot,” Drinkard said. “The energy in the dugout is definitely up this year more than any other year. If nothing else, those kids are definitely having fun in there. It’s always more fun when you’re winning, but if you’re not out there having fun, then you shouldn’t be out there.”
• The Valley Regional baseball team’s roster includes senior captain Josh Ross; seniors Jacob Kateley, Jacob Robertson, Jeff Sypher, and Garrhett Watrous; juniors Evan Benson, Jason Camilleri, Ben Conrad, and Chris Sparaco; sophomores Benjamin Alexander, Michael Brooks, Scott Connell, Charlie Crilly, Jack Daley, Ryan Ellison, Gavin Filaccchione, Ryan Grace, Sam Helsel, Kyle Metz, Kyle Montecalvo, and Christopher Schaefer; and freshmen Jacob Chomicz, Kyle Ghilani, Finn Grabowski, John Guthrie, Jason Malli, James Marsden, Oscar Pelkey, Andrew Salbinski, and Kevin Willetts-Johnson.
• Brian Drinkard is in his second season as head coach of the Warriors. Drinkard’s coaching staff includes assistant coaches Gene Robida, Charlie Wolfe, Lou Rolon, and Nick Mardjekaj.
• For the remainder of the season, Valley has home contests versus Old Saybrook, Hale-Ray, Morgan, Coginchaug, and Cromwell on its schedule. The Warriors also have road games against East Hampton, North Branford, Haddam-Killingworth, Cromwell, New London, and Old Lyme.
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