Shelton baseball returns only two starters, plenty of talent

Max McLoughlin and Anthony Steele, team captains, bring experience to coach Scott Gura's lineup.

Max McLoughlin and Anthony Steele, team captains, bring experience to coach Scott Gura's lineup.

Bill Bloxsom / Hearst Connecticut Media

Baseball teams are returning to the field after missing a season.

Consider this. During the COVID-19 pandemic induced time away from the game, then 7th graders are now freshman, 8th graders are sophomores, sophomores who in most cases never saw varsity are seniors, and juniors slated to play have graduated.

Shelton coach Scott Gura got to the heart of the matter.

“We haven’t played baseball in 640 days and we have two weeks to evaluate 61 kids who came out for the program,” Gura said. “We were expecting to have a good year last season. We were extremely talented. I thought we had a top 10 team in the state that could battle for a state title.

“Now you come full circle and we have two players in the program that have any innings of varsity experience with centerfielder Max McLoughlin (Montclair St.) and pitcher Anthony Steele (Penn St.). I expect them to lead. They are the only ones that know what to expect wearing a Shelton jersey.”

Growing pains will have to be quick. Shelton has one sanctioned scrimmage with Seymour and the rest of the preseason will be inter-squad scrimmages before it opens on Saturday at Lyman Hall’s Pat Wall Field in Wallingford at 10 a.m.

Gura said: “I think we have a talented group of underclassmen coming in, but a lot of kids will have to step up quickly. Their learning curve must be a quick one. We only play 18 games (20 in a usual season). We do have a conference tournament and we do have a scheduled state tournament right now.”

A quick hook is a baseball term for rescuing a pitcher in trouble. Gura is extending that to his entire roster.

“Usually you have something to weigh against a slow start by a player. A player may not have hit well the first few games the year before but then settled in,” Gura said. “This time no one has built a resume to fall back on. If they start the year and struggle offensively, I’m going to have to go back to someone younger.”

McLoughlin and Steele understand their role as captains.

“I want to have a solid year to try to help a young team win,” McLoughlin said. “There are a lot of unknowns because we are the only players back with varsity experience. Our defense looks solid and we are all excited to be playing baseball.”

Steele said: “I took a lot of swings, perfected my mechanics with pitching and throwing and just wanted to get better for this year. We open at Lyman Hall and hopefully we can put our bats on the ball and produce runs.”

Clutch base hits, a defensive stop in a first-and-third situation to stop a rally, hitting the cutoff man to keep a runner from advancing are hallmarks of a Shelton team.

“I do have high expectations for these guys. They are talented. I think we will battle Amity for the division and a potential SCC berth,” Gura said. “But we have the entire infield, catcher, and two corner outfield positions still up for grabs.”

Pitching is a team strength.

“Behind Anthony, coming back after a year of injury is Connor Jensen a righty. We have two lefties with Ben Van Tine (senior) and junior Joe Ciccone whose two brothers (Will and Robert) were pitchers in the program,” Gura said. “We are deep in pitching. Whether that carries over to varsity in yet to be determined. They’ve thrown well at a younger level and thus far with us.”

Gura believes in tradition.

“Eddie Morocco has been passed away since 2008 now, so it’s been 13 seasons that I’ve been head coach,” said Gura of his mentor who coached Shelton for 28 seasons. “Some players may have had older brothers that played and are familiar how we run the program. It starts in freshman year and runs through senior year. They learn how we prepare physically and mentally for a season.

“There are a lot of young kids in program that haven’t been here before. I must say in the last 10 days of practice, their spirit has been incredible. They’ve all faced adversity with the COVID crisis last year and continuing this year. They are ready to roll. They came out full speed. I’ve been impressed with how they are treating putting on the Orange and Black.”

Gura said his team is taking the dangers of COVID seriously.

“My kids are properly following through on all protocols. They realize that at any time, you could be shut down and quarantined for a certain amount of time and lose games,” Gura said. “They are aware that they haven’t been out here for two years and want to do everything that is controllable not to risk exposure to the virus. These kids have been waiting.

“For 11 seniors (Will Berardi, Tommy Connery, Connor Jensen, Spencer Keith, Max McLoughlin, Thomas Peters, John Riccio, Shawn Smith, Anthony Steele, Walker Toth and Ben Van Tine) this is their chance to shine.”

Diamond notes: Shelton baseball’s legacy includes the most state championships in school history with five (football has four). They are the last program in the city to win a state championship (2012).

Shelton has 45 players and will play a varsity, junior varsity and freshmen schedule.

Dave Moore, a volunteer for 12 years has applied to be the head varsity assistant (replacing Joe Lizza). Jeff Van Scoy and Mike Riccio are jayvee and freshman coaches. Twitter: @blox354