Proud Shepaug program set for first final in 20 years

WASHINGTON — Between his upbringing, playing career and coaching elsewhere, he knows what this is all about.

For Shepaug baseball coach Scott Werkhoven, the opportunity to deliver another Class S title to the school is a special one. Not only have the Spartans not tasted victory in the final since 1999, but Werkhoven was on the squad that won it all in 1987, and lost in the final the following year.

Werkhoven, who also won a Class S title as a coach with Westbrook in 2002, is the perfect figure to lead this group of Spartans into battle.

“(These moments) are special,” said Werkhoven before practice Wednesday. “I don’t think you always appreciate it all the time in the moment; you do now years removed. But they’re special to the kids, the team and the community. It’s a great opportunity; these guys have worked hard to be here and they’ve earned this chance.”

It goes deeper than that, though. He preceded his father, who led the school during its glory years, including coaching Scott and company to their runs in the late 1980s. Before that, legendary figure Ted Alex built the program from the ground up in his image.

“Baseball is one of the things that brings the Shepaug community together,” Werkhoven said. “It has been for a long time and this is Mr. Alex’s program. If we look at that backstop, we see all the numbers and what it represents. But its the people who are involved, who have been involved with these guys since the time they were eight-years old. A lot of them came through program; it’s been a community effort to get them here.”

This tradition solidifies the Spartans’ program, and bonds the players who put on the pinstripes today. A strong senior class of nine has lifted Shepaug to a stellar 42-6 record the past two years, which will culminate in Saturday’s championship game against Coventry at 3:30 p.m. at Palmer Field in Middletown.

“There are some good teams in Class S so you never really knew, especially with the Catholic schools like Holy Cross and Notre Dame-Fairfield,” said Shepaug pitcher Jack Kennedy, referring to the two teams the Spartans beat in the last two rounds. “It’s always a question mark but we never doubted ourselves, we took it one game at at time, trusted our whole lineup and pitching.”

It’s the first final in 20 years for Shepaug, which has won five state championships overall. One of the smallest public high schools in the state has thrived once again in recent seasons thanks to the senior group.

“It’s huge, you see all the old timers park behind the backstop at home games,” Kennedy said. “The amount of fans who come to our games show how important it is to the community.”

Pitching has gotten the Spartans this far, and that’s reached another level during the postseason. Shepaug has yielded just two runs in 28 innings pitched in the tournament, including consecutive shutouts in the first two rounds. It’s no surprise that a trio of seniors has led this surge: Dom Perachi, Kennedy and Chance Dutcher have shouldered most of the load this season.

For the season Shepaug has yielded just 45 runs in 24 games, less than two per game. Catcher Ethan Hibbard is one of the team’s leading hitters.

“We’ve just been throwing a lot of strikes,” Perachi said. “Keep the ball low for the most part, and mix in off-speeds. We have a really good defense behind us.”

It will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, won by Coventry 4-1 at Muzzy Field in Bristol. Perachi — who will get the start Saturday — threw six shutout innings that day before Coventry scored four times in the seventh to stun the Spartans.

“It’s been a goal,” Perachi said. “Obviously I’m a little nervous but I have to take the approach that it’s another game. If I hit my spots mix in different pitches we’ll be fine with the defense behind me.”; @ryanlacey11