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Senior captain Luke DiMauro and the H-K baseball squad played their first game in two years when the team squared off against Cromwell on April 10. The Cougars claimed a 4-2 victory versus the Panthers in the contest. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior Alden Halfinger pitched five strong innings to lead the Cougars to a 4-2 road win over Cromwell in their 2021 season opener. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior Ryan Kehlenbach is starting at second base for the H-K baseball team during the spring campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
After seeing the 2020 season get canceled as a result of COVID-19, Mark Brookes is excited to begin his 45th year as head coach of the Haddam-Killingworth baseball team in 2021. Coach Brookes’s club started off the season on a triumphant note by posting a 4-2 road win over Cromwell in its opener on April 10.
With vaccinations being rapidly distributed throughout the country and safety measures in place, sports are starting to return to some form of normalcy in the United States. While Coach Brookes doesn’t know how H-K’s season is going to pan out, he feels happy to simply see the Cougars competing this spring.
“We’re just trying to be as flexible as possible. Everyone is glad to be playing sports and playing baseball again. It goes all the way from the coaches to the players to the parents—even the umpires,” said Brookes. “It’s really hard to predict how this season is going to go, having a year off. I got a chance to see [H-K’s players] compete last summer a little bit, but it’s hard to tell. It’s difficult to predict how successful we will be and how everyone else will be.”
The Cougars’ senior captains for the 2021 season are Alec Erskine and Luke DiMauro. Coach Brookes is excited to see where the two seniors are going to pick up from where they left off as sophomores. Erskine pitches and also plays shortstop, while DiMauro is H-K’s starting center fielder. Brookes also sees senior pitcher Alden Halfinger stepping up for his team this year.
“Alec and Alden both have good fastballs. They have also developed breaking and changeup pitches. Both guys throw it pretty good. Alden did a lot of relief work as a sophomore, but I see him being a starter this year,” Brookes said. “As for Luke, he played third base as a sophomore, but he’ll be back in center field—his natural position—this season. He’s an all-around player. He hits well, fields well. He’s just a solid kid.”
Erskine had three hits, including two doubles, to go with two runs scored when H-K defeated Cromwell by a 4-2 score in its first game of the season. Erskine also earned the save by pitching the last two innings of the victory, striking out five. Halfinger got the start on the mound and notched the win after tossing five innings with six strikeouts.
H-K’s senior class also features left fielder Rocco Nappi, right fielder Matt Pray, second baseman Ryan Kehlenbach, pitcher Alex Sheehan, and catcher Cavin Burrell. Coach Brookes expects most of the seniors on his roster to be fixtures in the Cougars’ starting lineup.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors that I see being starters for us. My second baseman Ryan Kehlenbach has a lot of experience, along with Rocco and Matt,” said Brookes. “So far, we’ve had a couple of scrimmages, and those have gone well. It’s going to be an exciting season. We just need to stay healthy.”
H-K’s roster for the 2021 season also includes junior first baseman Caden Civiello, junior utility player Ryan Duncanson, junior pitcher Lucas Kamoen, junior catcher Nick Glynn, junior outfielder Andrew Conti, junior outfielder Declan Christopher, and junior infielder Matt Miranda; along with sophomore third baseman Callen Powers, sophomore infielder Dylan Coon, sophomore infielder Benjamin DeCrosta, and sophomore pitchers Liam Gordon and Ryan Erskine.
H-K has 20 regular-season games on its schedule for this season. The postseason is slated to include both the Shoreline Conference Tournament and the Class M State Tournament. This spring marks the first time that the CIAC is holding state tournaments since the winter of 2020, when they were abruptly canceled in the middle of them due to COVID.
Coach Brookes is hoping that the CIAC’s plan for the spring season is able to be completed.
“The CIAC cut a week off of our schedule, but they still allowed us to schedule 20 games. Tentatively, there will be a Shoreline Tournament and a State Tournament at the end of the year,” Brookes said. “I’ve prepared myself for everything at this point. Every morning, I check my email, and I don’t know what to expect. We just have to be thankful for every game that we are able to play this year.”
Brookes is only eight wins away from reaching 700 victories for his career, an achievement that he said is “a testament to the kids and all the hard work that they’ve put in over the years.” Just like the season, Brookes isn’t ready to make any predictions about how long he plans to continue coaching, but he knows that he’s going to enjoy being with his players in the H-K dugout this year.
“My wife wants me to keep coaching, and I enjoy what I’m doing still, so I don’t see myself retiring just yet,” said Brookes. “I’m just going to take it season by season and see where it takes me.”