Friday, May 07, 2021

Sports

Guilford Baseball Starting New Era with Coach Merullo

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Senior captain Jake Ciocca and the Guilford baseball squad recently began their first season with Nick Merullo as the team’s head coach. Merullo likes the attitude and enthusiasm that he’s seen from his team thus far. Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Senior captain Jake Ciocca and the Guilford baseball squad recently began their first season with Nick Merullo as the team’s head coach. Merullo likes the attitude and enthusiasm that he’s seen from his team thus far. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

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Senior captain Michael McCullagh and the Guilford baseball team notched their first victory of the 2021 season when the Grizzlies claimed an 8-6 victory versus Fairfield Prep in a home game on April 14. Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Senior captain Michael McCullagh and the Guilford baseball team notched their first victory of the 2021 season when the Grizzlies claimed an 8-6 victory versus Fairfield Prep in a home game on April 14. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

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Junior Aiden McBrierty pitched five solid innings of relief ball to help the Grizzlies defeat Fairfield Prep for their first win of the year. Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Junior Aiden McBrierty pitched five solid innings of relief ball to help the Grizzlies defeat Fairfield Prep for their first win of the year. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

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Senior Jack Palmer had a big day at the dish that included four RBI when Guilford notched an 8-6 win over Fairfield Prep last week. Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Senior Jack Palmer had a big day at the dish that included four RBI when Guilford notched an 8-6 win over Fairfield Prep last week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

After spending a year away from the game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guilford baseball team is back and ready for action in the 2021 season. As the Grizzlies take the field, they are doing so under new leadership.

Nick Merullo joined Guilford as the baseball team’s head coach after having previously been an assistant coach at Hand. Merullo expects the Grizzlies to compete at a high level this spring and is pleased to see his athletes buying into the mindset of trying to get a little bit better every day.

“We have had great practices since day one, and the team has handled adversity in stride as it has presented itself, whether that be certain COVID situations or simply the challenges that come along throughout the course of a baseball season,” Coach Merullo said.

“We have a great group of kids who want to work hard to get better and a dedicated coaching staff that wants to the see the best in each player. I expect this team to proudly represent our community both on and off the baseball field,” he continued. “If we can continue to build great character and habits, we will be successful.”

So far, the Grizzlies are off to a 1-3 start to their season. Guilford began its campaign with a game at North Haven on April 10 and took an 8-3 defeat. Two days later, Guilford took an 18-6 home loss versus Xavier.

The Grizzlies bounced back when they hosted Fairfield Prep on April 14, claiming an 8-6 victory for their first win of the year. Guilford later took a 12-2 home loss to Foran on April 18.

Coach Merullo felt that it was important for Guilford’s players to get some experience in varsity games during the opening week of the season. Merullo likes the way his team is competing.

“Playing varsity baseball in the SCC is a completely different atmosphere than playing summer ball. Truly, any team can win on any given day, and you have to play great baseball to win games in this league,” said Merullo. “We are making some things a little bit harder than they have to be by making both mental and physical mistakes, but all of that is to be expected with a young team early in the year.”

Senior outfielder Jack Palmer went 2-for-3 with a home run in Guilford’s season-opening loss to North Haven. Senior Michael McCullagh pitched 3.2 innings and struck out three batters in the loss. McCullagh is serving as one of Guilford’s senior captains this year.

“Mike is a fierce competitor and is the only pitcher on the roster who entered the season with varsity experience,” Coach Merullo said. “We will rely on Mike to play a key role in our pitching staff.”

Guilford went on to take an 18-6 loss against Xavier, although the Grizzlies still saw several players make contributions in the game. McCullagh was 1-for-1 with a walk and a run scored for Guilford. Senior shortstop Jake Ciocca went 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Ciocca is the other senior captain for Coach Merullo’s team.

“Jake is the definition of calm, cool, and collected. He leads by example with his play, every game and every practice. He makes some very challenging plays at shortstop look smooth. Jake is our leadoff hitter and has the ability to hit for a very high average,” Merullo. “In our second game against Xavier, we put ourselves in a hole early, but didn’t quit, even when the score got a little lopsided. The team continued to play hard, and it allowed us to get every player on the roster their first game experience.”

Guilford was able to break through for its first victory of the season by earning an 8-6 home over Fairfield Prep on April 14. The Grizzlies received a strong effort on the mound from junior pitcher Aiden McBrierty, who picked up the win in relief. The right-hander tossed five innings and allowed only one earned run, while recording four strikeouts on the day.

“Aiden has impressive stuff on the mound and will take on a key role within our pitching staff,” said Merullo. “He is also a strong right-handed hitter who will contribute at the plate.”

Palmer was 2-for-4 with four RBI to bolster to Grizzlies’ offensive attack. Junior Michael Torre had two hits with three runs scored and an RBI. Ciocca also scored three runs to help Guilford get the win against a solid Fairfield Prep squad.

“In game three against Fairfield Prep, we defeated the No. 4-ranked team in the preseason top 10 poll,” Merullo said. “The coaching staff kept preaching to our kids to believe in themselves, pick up their teammates when the going gets tough, and be the guy who wants to make the big play or get the big hit. We did an outstanding job responding to our first bit of adversity after a bad loss against Xavier the previous game.”

With Ciocca and McCullagh serving as the captains, Guilford’s senior class also includes Palmer, an outfielder; along with outfielder/pitcher Sam Huffman, infielder/pitcher Sal D’Anna, catcher Clayton Ulrich, outfielder Cameron Sullivan, infielder/pitcher Julian Scarpa, and outfielder Niko Tartagni.

Guilford’s junior class includes infielder/pitcher McBrierty, outfielder/pitcher Torre, catcher Chris Golino, outfielder Tyler Zajkowski, and first baseman/pitcher Max Corbetti.

Infielder/pitcher Carter Williams and pitcher Ryan Lynch are two sophomores on the Grizzlies’ roster. First baseman/pitcher Bryce Meder and catcher Mike Buccaro are competing for the team as freshmen.

Following this season, five of Guilford’s seniors will go on to play college baseball. D’Anna is committed to Nichols College and will major in sports management. Huffman will play for Massachusetts Maritime Academy and major in international maritime business. McCullagh is set to play for UConn Avery Point and major in business, while Palmer will play for the University of Bridgeport. Scarpa will play for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and major in mechanical engineering.

As he embarks on his first season with the Guilford baseball team, Coach Merullo feels good about the fact that the Grizzlies are hitting the field with a club that loves to play the game.

“I firmly believe that this group’s best baseball is still ahead of us,” said Merullo. “We have a great group of kids who want to work and play hard, and there’s nothing more you can ask for as a coach.”




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