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Senior captain center fielder Julian Banerji finished his career with the Hand baseball team by earning All-SCC and All-State accolades, while helping the Tigers win 18 games to go with appearances in the SCC Tournament semifinals and Class L State Tournament quarterfinals. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Jake Crawford manned the mound and played first base for a Tigers’ team that finished with an overall record of 18-7 in 2019. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior catcher Kevin Girardi posted a .417 on-base percentage in his final campaign as a member of the Hand baseball squad this spring. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Throughout the grind of a baseball season, whether it be on the base paths or in the training room, the bond of brotherhood grows through competition. This spring, the athletes on the Hand baseball team battled together and competed for each other to help the Tigers make another nice postseason push.
Hand finished with an overall record of 15-5 and won the SCC Oronoque Division title by going 8-0 in divisional play during the 2019 regular season. Head Coach Travis LaPointe’s club entered the SCC Tournament as the No. 3 seed and started off the draw by earning a 4-3 victory over Guilford in an 11-inning quarterfinal thriller. The Tigers went on to take a 7-6 loss against Amity in the semifinal round.
For the Class L State Tournament, Hand was the No. 4 seed and opened up with a 12-2 rout versus E.O. Smith in the first round. The Tigers followed up that win by notching an 8-5 victory against Guilford in a second-round matchup, after which they lost a 7-3 contest to Notre Dame-West Haven in the quarterfinals. Hand finished the year with an overall record of 18-7.
Coach LaPointe said the Tigers set a positive tone for the season when they started bonding in the weight room during the harsh days of winter. That tone was amplified when Hand began the campaign by scoring a 2-1 walk-off win over Waterford on Opening Day.
“This group developed a special bond together. That began with our strength training in the weight room during the winter months three times a week for 90-minute sessions. It gives everyone a chance to bond through hard work and compete before we ever step foot on the field,” said LaPointe. “This team was showing signs of being a special group ever since the first game of the season and that carried through until the final out.”
Coach LaPointe felt the Waterford win served as an instant measuring stick for what Hand would achieve this spring. LaPointe saw the Tigers continue displaying what they were made of by posting more notable victories throughout the year.
“Waterford came in and played a great game. It was high pressure, and every out felt like it would end up deciding the game. We ended up winning in walk-off style in extra innings, and we never really looked back,” LaPointe said. “We had some hard-fought wins this year, including coming back to knock off the No. 1 team in the state, Ledyard. We also played four tough games against Guilford and beat them each time.”
One of Hand’s senior captains was Julian Banerji, who finished his career as a four-year starter in center field. Banerji shared the captain’s chair with Jake Crawford, a three-year varsity player who pitched and played first base for the Tigers.
“Julian was a staple of this program and helped bring us along into the conversation of being one of the best teams in the SCC and the state. He brought swagger, toughness, resiliency, and attitude to a program that was in desperate need of a personality. He taught his teammates how to win and how to never feel complacent about being second best,” Coach LaPointe said. “Jake brought a toughness and an incredible work ethic that rubbed off on his teammates. Jake was a quiet leader that led by example, but would use his voice and energy to motivate his teammates when we needed him most.”
Hand’s sensational senior class also featured Kevin Girardi (catcher), Kevin Tracy (pitcher), Will Kleinhenz (leftfielder), Brad Cosgriff (infielder), and Jake Salutari (pitcher). No matter their position in the field or their spot on the lineup card, Coach LaPointe said that each one of his team’s seniors played the game with class, while helping the Tigers make a name for themselves on the local baseball scene.
“This group of seniors took us to new levels of success. They won consecutive division titles, made an appearance in the SCC Tournament final and semifinals, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the State Tournament during their senior year,” said LaPointe. “They helped flipped the entire culture of the team during their years as Hand baseball players, and they will have an important place in this program forever.”
Banerji and junior shortstop Phoenix Billings both earned All-SCC and All-State accolades for Hand this season. Junior pitcher Liam Wallace and sophomore third baseman Anthony DePino were also All-SCC honorees.
Coach LaPointe feels proud that Hand has been steadily climbing the conference and state ranks for the past decade. LaPointe believes that the future is bright for a program that saw success at all three levels in 2019.
“This season was a pivotal year for this program. It solidified the culture that we have worked to establish over the past eight years,” LaPoint said. “Our freshman, JV, and varsity teams all played winning baseball, were great student-athletes, and were role models for the younger players in the community. They worked so hard and achieved so much. I am really proud of everything we accomplished, and we can’t wait to get back on the field next year.”
In closing, LaPointe expressed tremendous gratitude for his valuable brain trust of assistant coaches.
“We have exemplary coaches. Nick Merullo, Kyle Heins, Justin Kaeser, and Bill Daunais are the best of the best. They are incredible mentors and coaches. They are so skilled,” said LaPointe. “I would point to them as the biggest reason for our program’s growth and success. They are my support system, and they shine during our practices and our games. I am so thankful to have them coaching alongside me.”
From the Sidelines
Liam Wallace finished with a record of 7-1 and had a 1.92 earned-run average on the mound for Hand this season. Kevin Tracy posted a record of 4-2 with a 3.19 ERA.
Hand’s lineup featured several sluggers, including Anthony DePinto (.373 batting average, 12 doubles, 4 home runs, 22 RBI), Julian Banerji (.330 average, 14 RBI, 15 runs scored), Will Kleinhenz (.325 average, 5 doubles, 22 runs scored, 12 stolen bases ), and Phoenix Billings (.293, 2 home runs, 17 RBI, 20 runs scored). Colin Telford (.347 average, 15 runs scored, 7 stolen bases), Kevin Girardi (.284 average, 20 RBI, .417 on-base percentage), and Jake Crawford (.264, 17 RBI, .406 on-base percentage) also made major contributions at the plate this year.
During the regular season, Hand earned two victories versus Guilford (19-13 and 7-4), Fairfield Prep (8-6 and 5-2), West Haven (8-2 and 12-7), Career (6-1 and 11-2), Shelton (2-1 and 12-0), and Hamden (3-2 and 1-0) to go with one win apiece against Waterford (2-1), Ledyard (5-3), and Wilton (2-1).
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