Valley Baseball Featuring Mix of Youth and Veterans
Senior Sam Helsel and the Valley Regional baseball squad notched their first win of the season with a 9-1 victory against Morgan on April 12. Helsel had a pair of hits in the victory. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Braeden Sparaco can play a variety of infield positions for the Warriors including shortstop, third base, and second base. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Sam Hutchinson is one of many talented sophomores at Head Coach Brian Drinkard’s disposal this spring. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Valley Regional baseball squad earned its first win of the 2021 season last week. It has been nearly two years since the Warriors took the field, and Head Coach Brian Drinkard’s squad looks a lot different than in 2019.
The Warriors are hoping to have a solid year mainly bolstered by a young group of solid sophomores with a sprinkling of veterans.
Valley played a pair of games last week and came away with a split in the two contests. The Warriors secured a lopsided 9-1 home win against Morgan and then lost an 8-0 road battle with Haddam-Killingworth.
Regardless of the results of the contests, Coach Drinkard just feels happy that his team has the chance to go out and compete this season after missing out in 2020.
“It’s been great to get out there and see the kids again. We’re excited to be playing. We’re also trying to shake the cobwebs out for some of these kids who haven’t been playing year round,” Coach Drinkard said. “I’m excited about the group of sophomores that we have this year. It’s exciting to see them on the field and part of the program.”
While Coach Drinkard has enjoyed the Warriors taking the field, it was even better to see them secure their first win over Morgan on April 12. Valley received strong performances from some of its veterans like seniors Ryan Ellison and Sam Helsel.
“Ryan Ellison was on the mound, and he pitched really well. He only gave up one hit, and we were able to string some hits together and put up nine runs,” Drinkard said. “Sam Helsel had two hits in both of our first two games this season. He also had three RBI in that game against Morgan.”
Coach Drinkard knew that it was important for his team’s confidence to get a win sooner rather than later. The Warriors dropped their home opener against North Branford on April 10, but grabbing a decisive victory over the Huskies was great for morale.
“It’s always important to get the first win. I thought we played well enough in our first game to win, but we didn’t get the timely hitting against North Branford,” Drinkard said. “Sometimes it works out like that. You can play a good game and the ball doesn’t bounce your way. Baseball is funny like that.”
It wasn’t just the seniors making waves in the win over Morgan; sophomore Braeden Sparaco had a heavy hand in the victory, as well. Sophomores like Sparaco, Ben Marchese, Sam Hutchinson, Jack Finnegan, Lucas Rogers, Mason Erwin, and Henry Breckenfield have been doing well for Valley.
“The sophomores played summer and fall so they didn’t miss much time. They’ve been playing right along with their AAU teams,” Drinkard said. “That really shows up on the field that they are putting in that work. Baseball is a year-round sport for them. The sophomore group has made it hard on the seniors. They are right on their heels, and they’re hungry and want to play. It’s increased the competition for starting roles on the team.”
Sparaco is a prime example of one of the sophomores who has shown himself to be able to contribute every game. “Braeden’s been our shortstop for the first three games. He definitely can pitch, too. I could see him at second, short, or third in the future, and he definitely has a passion for baseball, and he’s willing to work,” said Drinkard. “In fairness to his classmates, that desire to work isn’t unique to him. Every sophomore in our program is legit and all-in for baseball.”
Having young, contributing players also means that there will be some bumps in the road. On April 14, the Warriors lost a 8-0 road contest against Haddam- Killingworth.
That game featured a sophomore tandem of pitchers handling duties on the mound for Valley, and, while the game ultimately ended in a loss, Coach Drinkard was encouraged by what he saw from Marchese and Breckenfield on the bump.
“It may not look like there was a lot to say about that game, but we pitched two sophomores that game: Ben Marchese and Henry Breckenfield,” Coach Drinkard said. “They both pitched well enough to keep us in the game, but our fielding had a few mishaps. A team like H-K, you can’t make mistakes, or they’ll take advantage of them.”
Perhaps one of the biggest weapons at the Warriors’ disposal this season is junior James Marsden, who is the Warriors’ ace on the mound. He pitched in Valley’s 4-2 loss against North Branford in the home opener. Marsden had a strong performance, but Valley’s offense couldn’t supply enough runs to catch the Thunderbirds.
“James Marsden actually pitched the first game in a loss, but he struck out 11 in that game. He gave up an early 2-run home run and a couple more runs throughout the game. It was the first game of the season, and he deserved some more run support,” said Coach Drinkard. “James will play baseball at the next level for sure. It is his number one sport. He’s a smart kid, and that will give him a lot of options at the next level of where he goes and where he plays.”
The Warriors have a lot of talent, but it is relatively raw for the high school level. Coach Drinkard is hoping that as the season goes on, the team rounds into form and then the Warriors can make their run at the postseason.
“We’re carrying 20 players on the varsity roster. The talent level is very close. We’re planning on riding the hot hands throughout the season. I’ve never had this many options at Valley before. Our depth is really good. It makes piecing it together a bit more difficult, but it’s a good problem to have,” Drinkard said. “The Shoreline is a tough baseball league. You get 18 to 20 games in a regular season. You go through the season and see where you end up. You hope to get into to the tournaments and get hot at the end of the year.”