Senior contingent lead Shelton into postseason

Shelton's seniors led the way for coach Scott Gura. Connor Jensen, Ben Van Tine, Walker Toth, Tommy Peters, Shawn Smith, Anthony Steele, Spencer Keith, Max McLoughlin, Tommy Connery, Will Berardi and John Riccio helped the Gaels qualify for the Class LL state tournament.

Shelton’s seniors led the way for coach Scott Gura. Connor Jensen, Ben Van Tine, Walker Toth, Tommy Peters, Shawn Smith, Anthony Steele, Spencer Keith, Max McLoughlin, Tommy Connery, Will Berardi and John Riccio helped the Gaels qualify for the Class LL state tournament.

Shelton High Athletics / Contributed photo

Shelton baseball coach Scott Gura feels good about his class of 2021 baseball team.

“Nine of the seven starters had zero varsity experience. To get double digit wins, to have a winning season exceeded expectations,” Gura said of his 10-8 club. “We were getting on a roll at the end of the season. Then we had the misfortune of running into Fairfield Warde, the FCIAC champions (a 3-2 loss) in the second round of states. If you look at how LL played out, 11 of the top 15 seeds got knocked out early. The competition in LL is so tough.”

Gura graded his team on how well it accepted a challenge.

“We beat Amity for the first time since 2015. It was a huge win for our program,” Gura said. “Making the SCC tournament, winning a first-round state game against Xavier were pluses. Xavier was another of the Top 10 teams over the course of the year. Going up there and beating them at Palmer Field was a real nice cap to the season.’

Gura graded his seniors highly.

“Connor Jensen came back from injuries his freshman and sophomore year. He didn’t have varsity experience. This year as a senior he became an All-SCC player. Hand’s only loss in the regular season was to Connor.

“Shawn Smith was our first baseman when Anthony Steele pitched. He was our DH in other games. We nicknamed him our quiet assassin. He is soft spoken. Shawn is like a gentle bear. He batted .302. He had big hits for us.

“Spencer Keith won our Scott Fauci Award. Scott died in 1995 as a senior. He was the heart and soul of his team. He was a gritty, hard-nosed type of player. Spencer fit that role. He was our catcher. He never complained with baseballs fouled off his mask, his knees, his chest protector. Spencer was catching guys like Anthony and Connor, who throw lively fastballs. He never took a day off.

“John Riccio was our leadoff batter and our second baseman. I think if you had a most improved player during the year it was John. He established himself at the top of order. He was second on the team in on-base percentage at .453. He had 18 hits. He batted .305 and led team in walks.

“Ben Van Tine was our crafty left hander. The highlight for him was throwing a no-hitter against Hillhouse when we badly needed a win. He had his best overall pitching performance against Hand. The first time we played them, he limited them to two hits in the first five innings. Hand coach Travis LaPointe told me to tell Ben that his was one of the best pitching performances that they faced all year. Hearing that from the coach of the Class L state champion was nice for Ben to hear.

“Walker Toth was a relief pitcher. He gave us quality innings. Walker had a reliable arm who threw strikes. He is also our scholar-athlete. I see Walker someday being a good head baseball coach.

“Tommy Peters was a utility player in the infield and outfield. He got us hits from the bottom of the lineup. Like Johnny Riccio, he was one of the most improved players on the roster as the season went on.

“Tommy Connery had the best fielding hands on the team. He was our third baseman. He played a good hot corner for us the last 20 of our 22 games. Tommy never once complained that he was being DH’s for. He was our most reliable fielder. Tommy understood his role and played a great third base every game.

“Will Berardi hit the huge game winner for us when we came back to beat Guilford. He came in with no varsity experience to play shortstop. Being a shortstop is no easy task. Will handled it well.”

Gura feels that the door opened to this year’s players to contribute will return dividends in 2022.

“Joey Ciccone and Roy Lenhard are two lefties that will be in our rotation next year,” Gura said. “Both were also reserve outfielders. I’m expecting big things from them next year.

“Nick Piscioniere was only a freshman and I think he started 12 games for us. That is uncommon here. The last freshman I remember starting is Mike Cowell (2015) or Trey McGloughlin (2017). Being a 14-year-old freshman and contributing on the varsity level...Nick handled it like a seasoned veteran.

“He and Dylan Ziegler I expect big things coming back. Dylan was our right fielder as a junior. I can see Dylan and Nick, gelling into all-league players. We have a good core with Billy Maguire. The ball explodes off his bat.”

The lineup card is uncharted.

Gura said: “You have a general idea of what each player is bringing to the table. There is a lot of positions, again, for kids to step up their roles with Shelton baseball. They have the offseason to work hard.

“This year and next year are the x-factor seasons. This year 8th graders were sophomores, freshman were juniors. Some played varsity. Others played jayvee. Now next year they are the juniors and the seniors. It will tell coaches how their programs have adjusted to the curveball society threw at us.”

College bound Gaels

Anthony Steele (Penn State), Max McLoughlin (Montclair State, NJ), Ben Van Tine (Houghton College, NY), Shawn Smith (Albertus Magnus), John Riccio (Rosemont College PA) and Connor Jensen (Southern New Hampshire University) are Shelton players known to have committed to play in college.

Gura said: “I’m glad our kids are continuing their education and their baseball careers. I’m happy that they enjoyed their high school careers and want to keep playing.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354