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Article Published June 10, 2019
Morgan Baseball Used Midseason Turnaround to Make States
Chris Negrini, Assistant Sports Editor

The Morgan baseball squad had an impressive run this season after faltering out of the gate. The Huskies started off with 1-7 record through the first eight games of the season before finishing with an 8-4 stretch that put them into the Class S State Tournament. Head Coach Michael Grant’s squad showed tremendous grit in competing every night even when things looked the bleakest. The Huskies were able to make the playoffs thanks to contributions from steady veterans mixed with some young talent. Morgan finished the year with a final overall record of 9-12.

Coach Grant appreciated his squad’s determination in the face of tough odds. Even though his team didn’t go the distance this year, Grant thought the mid-season turnaround was an impressive feat in itself.

“All in all it was a successful season. We played some young guys and I was proud of the fact that they kept grinding away at it. They could have easily packed it in and they didn’t. After starting the year off 1-7 and then going 8-4 in the second half, that’s a win.”

One of the biggest games of the Huskies’ season came against St. Bernard. The game was played at Dodd Stadium on a cold day in April, with Morgan owning a 1-7 record. The Huskies won the game 3-0 after battling through rough weather. Coach Grant thought that win was the indicator, that his team could rise above the early rough start.

“We got our 3-0 win against St. Bernard. We played in a bitterly cold game, and I thought that was the pivotal game for us at Dodd,” Grant said. “We won a couple after that, and that’s when we turned it around. We were a different club after that in the second half of the year.”

Grit defined the Huskies this year, and it was even evident in the final game of the year in the first round of the Class S State Tournament. Morgan faced off against Lyman Memorial and fell behind 2-0 after two innings. The Huskies were able to tie the game in the top of the fourth inning and battle until a timely hit from Lyman Memorial in the bottom of the seventh ended their postseason.

“Even though we got beat in our states game, it was still a battle from the guys,” Grant said. “We fell behind early and tied it up before Lyman got that walk-off hit. It just showed the kind of guts our guys had this season.”

One big reason for Morgan’s tough-as-nails approach was senior captain AJ Fritz, who had a .379 batting average, 15 runs, and 10 RBI and earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors. The rest of his team just followed his lead and went to work every day.

“AJ was a great leader by example. He’s not much of a rah-rah guy,” said Grant. “He goes about his business in a professional manner. He kept our noses to the grindstone.”

In addition to Fritz’s leadership, the Huskies received solid contributions from its senior class. Connor Derry was one of the Morgan’s most effective pitchers with three wins and 34 strike outs to his credit. He also earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors. Coach Grant believes that Derry had a heavy hand in maintain the mid-season turnaround for Morgan.

“Connor threw a 9-inning no hitter against Cromwell,” Grant said. “He kept our run going and let us work our offense by keeping the other team off the board. He’s got a plus change up, a plus curve ball, he throws strikes, and pitches to contact.”

Also contributing from the Morgan senior class were Mike Menacho (12 runs, 10 walks) and Kyle Burt (.326, 2 triples). Both hit in the heart of the lineup, and supplied plenty of big hits for the Huskies.

“Mike Menacho was a great senior leader for us who batted third or fourth in the lineup, consistently,” said Grant. “Kyle Burt was great at hitting for average. He kept getting better and better as the year went on.”

The underclassmen also contributed in key spots for Morgan this year. Freshman Garrett Garbinski came on to play third base in the second half of the season, and he had a huge moment in states contest against Lyman Memorial in hitting a 2 RBI double to keep the Huskies in the game. Sophomore Ryan Egan also was shuffled into the lineup midseason, in addition to fellow sophomore Chris Morris.

“Garrett got a big double for us and scored two runs. He plays a good third base, and he got some timely hits for us,” said Grant. “Egan caught and pitched for us. Chris Morris played a solid defensive first base for us and he got a couple of big hits also.”

Robbie Zirlis was another impact sophomore for the Huskies as the team’s No. 2 starter. Zirlis turned in an ERA of 1.94 along with 26 Ks this year. Grant saw some great things from the sophomore, and he expects more to come next year.

“Robbie pitched as our No. 2 starter and was one of our best pitchers this season,” said Grant. “He will probably move up and be our No. 1 starter next year. He has a solid arm.”

Overall, Coach Grant believes the program is in a good position for next season. Many of the younger players were integral in righting the Morgan ship halfway through the season. Grant hopes that the maturity that his team showed this year will carry forward.

“They started settling in and the freshman weren’t playing like freshman, and the sophomores started playing like upperclassmen,” said Grant. “The experience of State tourney game will hopefully help with that too. I hope we keep building the program, and we’ll see what happens.”

From the Sidelines

The Morgan baseball roster consisted of senior captain AJ Fritz; seniors Kyle Burt, Connor Derry, and Mike Menacho; juniors Nick Rubino, Kyle Suraci, and Mike Zingarella; sophomores Ryan Egan, Ryan Hromadka, Ryan Inglis, Chris Morris, and Robert Zirlis; and freshmen Brady Fritz, Garrett Garbinski, Baily Goss, and Michael Pelletier.

This marked Head Coach Michael Grant’s second season at the helm of the Huskies. His coaching staff included assistant coaches CJ Caprio and Mike Spotts.

Morgan’s wins this season came against East Hampton (10-1), St. Bernard (3-0), Westbrook (4-3), Old Lyme (8-7), Cromwell (1-0), Valley Regional (10-0), Haddam-Killingworth (3-0), Portland (6-4), and Wilcox Tech (12-0).