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Senior captain catcher Josh Ross (right) finished an impressive four-year career with the Valley Regional baseball team by helping the Warriors notch their first State Tournament win in 13 years this spring. Ross was named Valley’s Most Valuable Player. (File photo by Catherine Avalone/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Kyle Metz had a knack for big hits in clutch spots for Valley Regional this spring. The Warriors finished the year with an overall record of 12-11. (File photo by Catherine Avalone/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Ryan Ellison came out of the bullpen for the Warriors in order to cool down opposing hitters this spring. (File photo by Catherine Avalone/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior Garrhett Watrous played all over the place for Valley Regional in 2019, including center field, as well as corner outfield and infield positions. (File photo by Catherine Avalone/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Valley Regional baseball team turned in another solid season in 2019 notching 12 wins and picking up a victory in the Class M State Tournament for the first time in 13 years. The Warriors squad featured a good mix of players and Head Coach Brian Drinkard and his coaching staff often went deep into their bench to piece together wins by any means necessary. With a mix of young talent and steady veterans Valley had a strong showing in Coach Drinkard’s second year at the helm.
Coach Drinkard was proud of his athletes for accomplishing something that hadn’t been seen at Valley in over a decade: a state tourney win. The Warriors have had plenty of solid campaigns over the year, but this one will feel a little more special because of that win.
“You never know what you’re going to get in a season. I was happy with the results we got this year,” Drinkard said. “It was especially nice to get that elusive states win. The last four or five years we played well enough to win a states game, but it just never happened.”
This year, Coach Drinkard employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to each game. It was common for a starting position player to be pinch hit for, and then the pinch hitter might be replaced in the field by a defensive whiz. Coach Drinkard thought that his squad’s positional versatility and team-first attitude allowed him the freedom to mix and match players situationally.
“A big thing about our team this year is that we had a lot of players and a lot of moving parts. We had people split time and accept different roles. We had guys that would play a lot, but maybe they wouldn’t hit because we had good bats on the bench,” said Drinkard. “We tried to put the best offensive and defensive line up out there at any given time. You could easily see a situation where egos would get in the way, but our players were committed to winning no matter who was out there.”
One of the biggest contributors to Valley’s success this year was the play of senior captain Josh Ross. The catcher Ross finished the season with a .420 batting average and 16 RBI to go along with All-State and All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors, as well as Valley’s Most Valuable Player Award. Coach Drinkard depended on Ross’s ability to handle the pitching staff night in and night out.
“Josh had everything to do with our success this year. He saved our coaching staff trips to the mound,” said Drinkard. “He has the ability to settle a pitcher down in the middle of the game where a coach would have to waste a trip. There where even time I would take a step toward the mound, and he would be on his way down there already. For a high school baseball player to have that kind of presence out there is everything.”
One of the pitchers who reaped the benefits of Ross behind the plate was freshman James Marsden. The young hurler earned the Warriors’ Pitcher of the Year award behind four wins, two saves, and 51 strikeouts. Senior Jake Robertson and junior Chris Sparaco were also major components of a potent pitching staff.
“James had an impressive season, especially for a freshman. Chris Sparaco, Jake Robertson, and Marsden; those three really held down the pitching staff. Jake reall has been an unsung No. 2 for a couple of years. He won some big games for us this year. Jake just wanted to win no matter who was out there having success,” Drinkard said. “Sparaco had some shoulder issues his sophomore year so he didn’t pitch at all until he came back in relief midseason. If he was pitching the whole year he could have made the decision for pitcher of the year really tough.”
Coming out of the bullpen for the Warriors was sophomore Ryan Ellison. Drinkard believes that Ellison is primed to take a big step forward in the future.
“He pitched for us in spots as a relief pitcher, and he did a great job. I’m hoping he takes another step forward,” said Drinkard. “I hope he comes into camp next year a bit faster and stronger. If he does, he’ll be a really good pitcher in the Shoreline.”
On offense, Valley got contributions up and down the roster. Senior second baseman Jeff Sypher couldn’t play early in the season but still got Valley’s Batting Title with a .490 batting average and constantly got on base. Sophomore Kyle Metz had a bunch of clutch at bats for the Warriors and came through with some huge base hits.
“Jeff came back about halfway through the season, and he ended up hitting close to .500,” said Drinkard. “Kyle Metz hit some big home runs. His batting aveage was okay, but he just always got a hit in a big spot. He was getting base hits and home runs when we really needed them.”
Senior Jacob Kately earned the Warriors’ Defensive Player of the Year Award. Defense was a big part of Valley’s winning formula, and that was evident in one of the most consequential stretches of the year. Valley secured a 14-11 win in a back-and-forth game on the road against Griswold and then played a formidable Shoreline foe Hale-Ray next. The Warriors won a narrow 9-8 contest against the Noises with a stellar diving catch in the outfield.
“Early in season up at Griswold, we got a lead, but our starter didn’t have his best stuff. Griswold ended up with a five-run lead. We put in some offensive power and pounded out some runs,” said Drinkard. “Then we had Hale-Ray at our place. We had a four-run lead in the last inning, and we just couldn’t get them out. They had the tying run on second and hit a line drive, but our right fielder ran it down with the defensive play of the year. I think if we lost those games, the season could have gone in the other direction.”
In the end, Drinkard was proud of what Valley accomplished and how they went about their business. The Warriors proved to be the epitome of what coaches mean when they talk about a team-first mentality.
“The guys were all positive and upbeat in the dugout. That means a lot to a team. These guys were up on the steps keeping everything loose and light. That goes a long way for a team. That set the tone,” said Drinkard. “We had some tough losses and good wins, but we stayed even-keeled throughout the season. I think that comes from the players in the dugout keeping everything fun.”
From the Sidelines
The Valley Regional baseball team’s roster featured 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 finished his second season as head coach of the Warriors. Drinkard’s coaching staff included assistant coaches Charlie Wolfe and Lou Rolon, as well as volunteer assitants Gene Robida and Nick Mardjekaj.
Valley’s wins this season came against Morgan (11-3), Coginchaug (11-7 and 8-7), St. Bernard (1-0), Westbrook (13-3), Griswold (14-11), Hale-Ray (9-8), East Hampton (6-2), North Branford (4-3), New London (11-1), Cromwell (3-2), and Killingly (4-2).
In the Shoreline Conference Tournament, the Warriors lost a 2-1 quarterfinal contest against North Branford.
In the Class M State Tournament, the No. 17 seed Warriors grabbed a 4-2 win against No. 16 seed Killingly in the first round. In the second round, Valley lost a 15-1 contest against the top-seeded Wolcott, who went on the win the tourney.
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