Deep River Horseshoe League Crowns its 2022 Champion
Eight teams battled it out to become this year’s Deep River Horseshoe League (DRHL) champion when the league recently hosted its Playoff Tournament. In the end, the Cardinals came out victorious in what proved another exciting edition of the DRHL postseason.
The DRHL Playoffs began on Aug. 23 and culminated with the championship match on Aug. 28. Heading into postseason play, league statistician Joe Heery said that many people expected the top-seeded teams to roll through the playoffs. However, what they saw was a competitive postseason that featured many of the league’s unheralded players leading their squads to victory.
“There were some expectations there that the top four seeds were going to win. It didn’t turn out that way,” Heery said. “People get on a roll. It wasn’t necessarily the A players that made the difference. The B and C players made the difference. When you throw doubles, it doesn’t matter.”
The championship match saw the No. 1 seed Giants take on the No. 6 seed Cardinals at the First Congregational Church in Deep River. The Giants’ roster consisted of A Division player Mike Zanelli, Sr., of Haddam, B Division player Warren Bellows of Waterford, and C Division player Jim Weselcouch of East Haddam. The Cardinals’ roster featured A player Kris Toohey of Westbrook, B player Brady Miller of Deep River, and C player Joe Machado of Clinton, along with Dale Brooks, a Middletown resident who substituted for Machado in the semifinals and final of the tournament.
In the first game of the title match, Toohey rattled off 10-straight ringers to give the Cardinals a 25-point win. Zanelli, Sr., was inspired for the second game, firing off 10 ringers in a row and to lead the Giants to a 22-point victory. Miller then threw his best game of the season with a perfect score of 37 to give the Cardinals a 2-1 series lead. Even after he accomplished the feat, Miller was surprised to see how well he performed in that frame.
“I felt so good in that game. I threw a 16 the game before, and I was really nervous. There’s a crowd watching. I’m just an average B player. There’s so many guys that are better than me,” said Miller. “Here I find myself in the championship winning it with Kris and Joe and Dale. I just happened to throw the right shoes. It goes to show you don’t have to be the best, best all the time.”
Zanelli, Sr., and the Giants were able to stop the Cardinals’ momentum in the next game as the A player threw 9 ringers in 7 boxes to even up the series. Game 5 was a battle that the Giants actually won at the scratch level, but with the handicap, the Cardinals won by 2. Zanelli, Sr., and Miller both had perfect games.
In Game 6, the Cardinals took an early lead and never looked back. They won the series by the final tally of 4-2, outscoring the Giants 304-293, to claim the 2022 DRHL championship. Zanelli, Sr., won the A matchup by a 147-117 score, but Miller notched a 103-87 victory in the B match, while Brooks posted an 84-59 win in the C contest to help the Cardinals come out on top.
With this being just his second year in the league, Miller said that he felt grateful to win the DRHL title and do so while competing alongside his Cardinals’ teammates.
“It was exciting. We couldn’t stop hand slapping and back slapping,” Miller said. “We were the underdogs. We had talked about it during the run to the playoffs. We wanted to be 5 or 6 [seed]. It always seems that a 5 or 6 wins it. It seemed right to be there.”
The secret to the Cardinals’ success? Their brand of horseshoes. After losing to Zanelli, Sr., and Giants during the regular season, the Cardinals switched from Mustang to American horseshoes. American horseshoes are certainly not the preferred shoe of the DRHL, but they were the right choice for the Cardinals, who used their new shoes and a balanced attack to rise the top of the DRHL this season.
“We were playing with Mustangs. I had a lousy game, Kris had a good game, but not a great game. Same with Joe. We made a shoe change. We went with Americans,” said Miller. “Nobody in the league likes [American horseshoes]. They consider them picnic shoes. When we changed our shoes, our game went right up. No one thought Americans would make the championship. It was frowned upon. But the guys in 6th place, throwing Americans, win the championship.”
Prior to the championship, the top-seeded Giants took on the No. 8 seed Padres in the first round of the playoffs. The Padres’ roster featured A player Mike Didomizio from Wethersfield, B player Gary Stevens of Chester, and C player Keith Fontane of Norwich.
The Giants and Padres battled through their three matches with both teams exchanging the lead. The Giants eventually came away with the sweep, outscoring the Padres 177-166. Zanelli, Sr., led all scorers with 92, while Didomizio finished with 72. Stevens won the B matchup 53-49, and Fontaine took the C match by a 41-37 score.
The 2nd-seeded White Sox, whose roster includes A player Frank Rausch of Killingworth, B player Dennis Allen of Westbrook, and C player Dave Atkinson of Deep River, faced a tough test when they played the No. 7 seed Pirates in the first round. The Pirates were led by A player Skip Robinson of Guilford, B player Anthony Malerba of North Branford, and C player Paul Stevens of Higganum.
When they faced each other in Week 12, the Pirates had the best record in the DRHL, but the White Sox came away with the victory. In the postseason, the Pirates swept the White Sox behind the final total of 154-141. Rausch and Robinson each had perfect games in the first match and both finished with 65 points for the set. Malerba, who had a perfect second game, tied with Allen with 46 points. Stevens won the C matchup 43-30.
The Cardinals relied on their B and C throwers in their first-round match against the No. 3 seed Tigers. Sheryl Serviss of Deep River, an A Division player, led the way for the Tigers, who also roster also included B player Todd Nuhn of Killingworth and Gary Haney, a substitute player from Deep River, who threw a perfect second game.
Toohey and Serviss had a great match that saw Serviss triumph by a 93-90 final. In Game 3, both Miller and Machado tossed perfect games, marking a first for the pairing. Toohey finished the fourth game perfect to give the Cardinals a 3-1 victory with a 219-176 differential. Miller won the B matchup 54-45, and Machado took the C matchup 75-38.
In another first-round match, the No. 4 seed Marlins squared off against the No. 5 seed Orioles. The Marlins’ roster featured A player Mark Goodale of Clinton; Steve Dingle, a new sub in the league from Essex; and C player John O’Brien of East Haven. The Orioles were led by Ed Turner of Deep River at the A, Damin Roberts of Cromwell at the B, and Andy Konefal from Deep River at the C.
The Orioles entered the matchup with a 16-point advantage due to the handicap. They took the first game, and then the Marlins won the second game. O’Brien then tossed a perfect game in the third game, recording a season-high score of 37, to lead the Marlins to victory. Heery described the fourth game as the game of the night as the Orioles came away with the win. However, even though Turner threw a perfect game in the fifth, Goodale and Dingle matched that achievement to give the Marlins a 3-2 win with a final score of 293-245. Goodale led the way with 169 points, and Turner had 119 points. Roberts won the B match 82-61, while O’Brien took the C contest 63-46.
In the semifinal round of the playoffs, the Giants took on the Marlins. The Giants won the first game by 1 point in a back-and-forth match. Bellows took over in the second game, throwing a perfect game, before tossing a 32 in Game 3, marking his first back-to-back 30-plus performance of the season. The Giants ultimately swept the match, outscoring the Marlins 159-135, with Zanelli, Sr., (76-71), Bellows (64-32), and O’Brien (30-21) all winning their respective contests.
“Mike and Mark battled back-and-forth with Mark coming out on points,” Heery said. “Warren had two phenomenal games. He hasn’t thrown two 30 games in a series. That ended up as a sweep, which was a shock.”
The Pirates played the Cardinals in the other semifinal showdown. Brooks, a new substitute player, filled in for Machado in the C Division match. The Cardinals took the first game to the final box with Toohey and Miller’s 4-spot leading them to a 5-point win. Toohey then outscored the Pirates by himself, 36-35, before Miller threw a perfect game in the third, giving the Cardinals a 3-0 sweep. The Cardinals outpaced the Pirates by a 158-121 score with Toohey winning the A matchup 61-51, Miller taking the B match 60-39, and Brooks winning the C match 37-34. The win advanced the Cardinals to the DRHL Playoff Tournament final, where they defeated the Giants by a 4-2 score to capture the title.
“The Cardinals won the first game by five. In the second game, Kris Toohey singlehandedly beat them,” said Heery of the semifinal match. “The third game was all Brady Miller.”
For the entire DRHL season, Goodale led all A Division players with 2,400 points, 618 ringers, and 122 doubles. At the B level, Hamden resident Butch Carotenuto of Hamden of the Dodgers and Deep River resident Cody Layton of the Red Sox tied for the league lead with 1,592 points. Carotenuto tied with Chester resident Jeremy Davis of the Reds for the most doubles in the B Division with 43. Davis led the B players with 405 ringers on the year. Paul Stevens led all C Division players with 1,327 points, 241 ringers, and 17 doubles for the season.
Throughout the past several months, horseshoe throwers both old and new to DRHL battled it out for the league crown. When the dust was settled, the Cardinals had taken their place on the throne. The 2022 season proved another successful one, and Heery believes that the DRHL has demonstrated that it has both the talent and passion to be a premier horseshoe league for years to come.
“The competition went well. We’ve brought in several new players. Overall, they showed significant improvement,” Heery said. “It shows that the other players are trying to help with their game, and that they’ve put in the work. Well done to them. It looks like the A players will stick together. We have a solid league.”