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Lancers have completed part of journey

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published June 08. 2013 4:00AM
Tim Martin/ The Day
Waterford coach Art Peluso, right, shakes hands with brother Marc, the Fitch coach, during a game on April 29. Marc led Fitch to the Class L title in 2012 and Art will try to do the same thing today when the Lancers play New Canaan.

Waterford Entering the season, Waterford High School had a clear destination in mind.

Palmer Field, site of the Class L state championship baseball game.

Today, the second-seeded Lancers make the trip to Middletown to play No. 4 New Canaan at noon for the state championship.

"Before the season, we talked about how we want to get here," said senior Kyle Willoughby, referring to Palmer Field. "We wrote on the board in our locker room, 'Road to Palmer.'

"That's how focused we've been."

The rainy weather may delay their title quest. A decision will be made this morning on the game status. A potential makeup date is Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

Coach Art Peluso would rather not wait another day to play.

"These guys were ready to play on Wednesday," Peluso said during indoor practice Friday afternoon. "We've been on a pretty good roll and we've got to keep that good feeling going."

Waterford (23-4) has relied on sound fundamental baseball and quality pitching during its tournament run, allowing only three runs in four wins and posting two shutouts.

Senior ace Jordan Hamler, who's already won two tournament games, will start today. Sophomore Justin Pandolfe emerged as a major factor late in the regular season and blanked No. 11 Notre Dame of West Haven, 2-0, in Tuesday's semifinal.

"Usually when you go for a state championship you get a shot in the arm late in the season that gets you to the point where we're at now," Peluso said. "Our shot in the arm was Justin Pandolfe."

Waterford can draw from numerous sources of motivation today.

The Lancers are attempting to win the program's 10th state championship, including the first since 2005. They're also shooting for their first Class L title in 32 years (The last five titles came in Class M).

Peluso also pointed out to his team that Waterford is one of the smallest schools in Class L. Waterford has 474 boys in its upper three classes and New Canaan has 635. The Rams are seeking their first state title, losing to Fitch, 6-4, last year.

The Lancers have embraced the underdog label.

"I feel like we go into every game in the Class L tournament as the underdog even though we're the two seed," Willoughby said.

They're also out to prove that they're better than some people projected.

"It means a lot to us," junior Seth Hoagland said. "In the beginning of the year, everyone was saying that we were going to have a down year. We really took that to heart and we've been playing our hardest."

Peluso has had high expectations all season and the Lancers have responded. He raved about their work ethic and consistent effort.

He used an example from Thursday's workout.

During a bunt drill, a pitcher failed to cover third base, but the left fielder hustled in to take the bag.

"They've played harder than anybody that we've played against all year," Peluso said. "And that gets us calls because we don't take plays off.

"... They've done it the right way all year. We're going to go there Saturday and we're going to play as hard as we possibly can and try to make all the plays.

"If it goes our way, that's great. If it doesn't, they have nothing to put their heads down about because they have played hard every single game."

g.keefe@theday.com

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