ROCKY HILL — The magnitude of the accomplishment — the first state baseball championship for Rocky Hill — is evident when enthralled youngsters in town see one of the players.
“You can hear the little kids say, ‘Oh, my gosh, oh my gosh, he's a baseball player,' and they come up with a little hesitation and then pat you on the back,” says pitcher/second baseman Spencer Bunting, a counselor in the town's Summerscape day camp program. “We feel like celebrities, rock stars.”
These players will be forever Rocky Hill's rock stars.
The Terriers' 4-3 Class M triumph over Haddam-Killingworth to conclude a 23-2 season with a 17-game winning streak catapulted them to No. 1 for the first time in The Courant's final state ratings.
No Rocky Hill baseball team had played in a state final before June 14 at Palmer Field in Middletown. The last time Rocky Hill had reached a quarterfinal was in 2001, and it lost by 10 runs to Notre Dame-Fairfield. This baseball season extended a lot further.
When any high school academic year ends, it's common for players to disperse because of work, college visits, vacations and other plans. But 10 days after graduation, the Rocky Hill baseball team was united once again on its home field.
It's not located at the high school, though. Beyond Rocky Hill's main athletic complex is a groomed field with dugouts and an outfield fence at Griswold Middle School.
But there was no aspect of the team that approached middle-grade this year.
To accommodate various schedules, the team gathered again earlier this month at 8 a.m. to pose for more photographs and to get measured for championship rings.
Coach Chris Farrell said the team will have fundraisers, such as car washes, and will seek sponsors and donations to pay for the rings. He hopes they will be presented to the players during halftime of a Rocky Hill football game in the fall.
“We want to make sure the guys have that experience of having a championship ring,” he said. “No one on the team had won a baseball playoff game until this year.”
The Terriers went 5-0 in the postseason. Their last three victories were walk-off ones: 4-2 (eight innings) against North Branford on Chris Bouchard's two-run homer; 1-0 (12 innings) over St. Joseph-Trumbull on Brandon Grover's RBI single; and 4-3 over Haddam-Killingworth on Josh Zawisa's bases-loaded walk.
Beyond these victories, Rocky Hill, a CCC East member, posted many impressive numbers during its season. It outscored foes by an average of 8.7-2.2 and batted .392 with 236 hits, 10 homers, 73 doubles and seven triples. Led by Bunting, senior Tommy Seaver, junior Dave Sevigny and sophomore Kevin Larkin, the team had a 1.87 ERA.
The four senior captains were significant contributors throughout: pitcher/center fielder Seaver (10-0, 0.56 ERA, 76 strikeouts in 721/3 innings, .328 batting average); Bunting (8-1, 1.23 ERA ,.436 batting average, 28 RBI); shortstop Bouchard (.500, 36 hits, 30 runs, .742 slugging percentage) and right fielder Grover (.448, 24 RBI, 31 hits).
“Our lineup 1 through 9 was unbelievable,” Farrell said.
He brought up the final against Haddam-Killingworth. The first two Rocky Hill batters were retired in the sixth with the Terriers trailing, 3-1.
“We were down to our last four outs,” Farrell said. “Our No. 7 hitter, Brian Batalis, started us back with a single. He hit .400 this season.”
Rocky Hill scored two runs on a wild pitch to tie the score at 3. “It didn't look good when our first two guys struck out,” Grover said. “It might have looked like we were that close to our season being over. But we weren't thinking that. We felt we were that close to winning.”
The foundation for such conviction was seen in the winter with voluntary workouts at area batting cages. “The seniors and everyone was there, pushing each other to be better,” Seaver said.
Early in the season, the Terriers were fortified. They dealt Berlin its only loss in the regular season in their road opener, 4-3. They followed with a 7-2 win against Conard-West Hartford.
“Then we went to Florida and played teams from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey,” Bouchard said. “We went 6-0, with four of the games being exhibitions. Everyone contributed. That was the point that I knew we could have a special season.”
Rocky Hill did lose consecutive games late in April to E.O. Smith-Storrs and South Windsor. But from April 29 to June 14, no team beat the Terriers.
On July 22, players, family, the school community and friends will attend the team's championship banquet at the Rocky Hill Community Center. No player introductions will be needed. Everyone in town knows their names.
“It will surely be a special night for all of the players, the coaches and the town of Rocky Hill,” Farrell said.