Saturday, May 4, 2013


By Ken Lipshez
WEST HARTFORD – The warm spring sun kissed the day like a blessing from above.

The grandstands at the University of Hartford’s Fiondella Field filled up quickly with parents, youngsters from the youth leagues and some of West Hartford’s leading citizens, all yearning for a positive experience and a firm commitment that winter is gone and spring is here.

Hall versus Conard has a special place in the hearts of every city sports fan, no matter what the sport. Through the hard work of the West Hartford Amateur Baseball Association – the brainchild of Rick Sanford and Steve Meucci – the schools’ baseball teams lined up on one field and the softball squads clashed adjacently.

Let the record show that the Warriors won the baseball game, 7-4, behind the stellar work of plucky senior pitcher and game Most Valuable Player Jacob Kochen. Softball remains the domain of the Chieftains, who put a 19-2 thumping on the improving Hall team.

But the event superseded winning and losing, as Hall coach Jeff Billing so eloquently stated after the game.
“It’s awesome. Coming over here, literally arriving and walking out on the field you can see a different bounce in their step,” said Billing, now in his third year guiding the Warriors.

“It’s such a great thing that the University of Hartford lets us come here. It’s such an amazing thing that Rick Sanford and Steve Meucci put all the effort in to make this happen. To get all the town baseball teams here out at second base for the National Anthem before the game. The atmosphere here feels like you’re playing professional baseball.”

Billing cited a comment made by his athletic sophomore shortstop Neil Kelley that will warm the hearts of Sanford, Meucci, Mayor R. Scott Slifka, State Senator Beth Bye, Athletic Director Betty Remigino-Knapp and anybody anywhere who values the role of sport in the lives of America’s youth.

“He said, ‘Coach, this is the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field.’ Win or lose, it’s an awesome experience. I’m really happy we started this and I hope this never ends. I hope there’s a 50th anniversary of the Mayor’s Cup,” Billing said.

Slifka called it, “a West Hartford holiday.” Remigino-Knapp expressed the win-win nature of the event considering that the price of admission and any subsequent donations would be placed in the coffers of the West Hartford Food Bank and the West Hartford Relay for Life.

But after the trimmings of the event were cherished, the reality was that the afternoon had to be painted either red or blue. Kochen made sure it was blue.

“I had to hit the strike zone but not leave anything over the plate for them to hit,” Kochen said. “Conard’s a really good hitting team. They can put any strike in the zone in fair territory and hit it hard. So, hit your spots, hit the outside, throw some offspeed to the good hitters and not let them get a really good piece of the ball.”
Given the choice of facing South Windsor Wednesday or mounting the steep hill at Fiondella, Kochen opted to wait, and it was there where he crossed paths with destiny.

“This is a memory he’ll now have for the rest of his life,” Billing said. “MVP of the Mayor’s Cup his senior year? He had never played varsity baseball before this year.”

While his performance didn’t match the one-hitter thrown by George Lund in the inaugural Mayor’s Cup in 2012, Kochen sternly threw strikes when he needed them most. He spread out eight hits in a route-going effort, walked four, struck out two and benefitted greatly from Hall’s flawless defensive work.
And the Hall bats were relentless against Conard’s two best pitchers – southpaw starter MaxVogel-Freedman and right-hander Charlie Fisher.

Reid Silverhart lashed Vogel-Freedman’s first pitch of the game into center for a solid single. Kelly drilled the second pitch inside the bag at third to put two in scoring position before the mustard had settled on the hot dogs. The tone of the game was firmly set.

“We won the game after two pitches,” Billing said. “If you can jump on people, especially as the visiting team, you’re going to put a lot of pressure on people.”

Silverhart score on a fielder’s choice grounder by Jon Greenfield. Just as Vogel-Freedman appeared to have put early jitters behind him, a passed ball enabled Kelly to make it 2-0. The mistake was a sign of things to come. 

“Defensively we’re not playing as well as we’re capable or need to,” Conard coach Ty Bongiovanni said. “It’s put a lot of pressure on the pitchers because mentally they’re changing the way they pitch because of it. They feel they need to strike out more guys than they really need to. I think it’s changing the way we approach just about everything. Our bats are totally different when we’re losing than when we’re winning.”
The bottom of the Hall order darkened Conard’s day in the second frame. Ben Horwitz singled and raced to third on a hit by Lucas Huber. Horwitz scored on a throwing error and Kelly laced an RBI single plating Huber.

Hall made it 5-0 in the third and ended Vogel-Freedman’s stint. Singles by Will Cook and Dan Nunes set the table. Horwitz walked and Huber earned a painful RBI when he was hit by a pitch with the bases full.
Conard battled back with single tallies in the third and fourth innings.

John Dinucci singled, stole second and scored on a double by Brendon Rossmeisl. After Alex Goroshko reached on an infield hit, Caleb LaRosa hit a laser to left, but Huber snared it and doubled off Rossmeisl at second.

The Chieftains climbed within three in the fourth when Fisher was hit by a pitch and scored on a single by Mike Eddy, but Hall began executing a successful end-game in the fifth. Nunes doubled to left and scored on a single by Zach Dobbins.

A little extra insurance at the University of Hartford seemed only suitable. Silverhart, who Billing dubbed the offensive MVP, started the sixth with a single, stole second and scored on an error – one of two dropped infield pops by Conard on the day.

When the final out was made, the Hall defense remained on the field and Bongiovanni ambled to the mound.
A special young man – Conard’s senior manager Phil Prieto – came to the plate for an honorary at-bat.

Prieto, a mentally challenged youngster who cannot play competitively due to safety issues, crushed a pitch into the right-field gap, circled the sacks and slid head-first into the home-plate dust.
It was a feel-good finish for a memorable afternoon.

              2013 Mayor’s Cup Baseball Classic

                              Hall 7, Conard 4
    (May 3, At Fiondella Field, University of Hartford)

Hall                                                Conard
                              ab  r  h  bi                                      ab  r  h  bi
Silverhart dh       4  2  2  0           Litke 2b                4  1  1  0
Kochen p             0  0  0  0           Dinucci rf            3  2  2  0
Kelley ss              4  1  2  1           Rossmeisl c        3  0  1  1
Greenfield 1b       4  0  0  1           Gorashko ss        4  0  2  1
Cook 2b               2  1  1  0           LaRosa 1b            3  0  0  1
DHorwitz pr        0  0  0  0           Fisher dh-p          3  1  1  0
Monos rf             4  0  0  0           Vgl-Frdmn p        0  0  0  0
Nunes cf              4  1  2  0           Muchin 3b          2  0  0  0
Dobbins 3b         4  0  1  1           Fracasso ph        1  0  0  0
BHorwitz c          2  1  1  0           Venora lf              1  0  0  0
Huber lf               2  1  1  1           Balesano ph        0  0  0  0
                                                        Eddy cf               3  0  1  1
Totals                 30  7  10  4        Totals                 27  4  8  4

Hall                                    221  011  0 – 7   10  0
Conard                              001  100  2 – 4     8  4

E – Rossmeisl, Fisher, Muchin 2. LOB – Hall 7, Conard 9.
DP – Hall 1, Conard 1.  2B – Kelley, Nunes, Rossmeisl.
SB – Huber, Nunes, D. Horwitz, Silverhart, Dinucci.
SF – LaRosa.

                            ip    h   r  er  bb  so
Kochen  W        7     8   4   4   4   2

Vgl-Frdmn L     2.2   7  5   4   2   6
Fisher                 4.1   3  2   1   1   2

PB – Rossmeisl. HBP – by Kochen (Fisher, Balesano);
by Vogel-Freedman (Huber; by Fisher (Cook).
A – 300. T – 2:11.  

Records – Hall 7-5 (3-4 CCC West); Conard 7-4 (4-2).

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