West Hartford’s Northwest Catholic High School may not make the state tournament this year for the first time since the current coach took over the team 15 years ago.
By David Heuschkel, West Hartford Press Sports Editor
When it comes to qualifying for the state tournament, the Cory Carlson’s baseball teams at Northwest Catholic have batted 1.000.
The Lions have played in the postseason every season since he took over the program in 2004: 15 for 15.
That string may snap this spring with Northwest Catholic in the midst of a dismal season that has left Carlson and his staff thoroughly frustrated.
Following an uninspiring 8-0 home loss to New Britain on April 29, Carlson did not address his team as he usually does. He also was hesitant to talk about the team, which dropped to 2-9 with nine games left. [Editor’s note: Since then, Northwest Catholic lost to Southington on May 1, and the Lions’ record is now 2-10.]
“We’re beyond frustrated,” Carlson said.
A four-year window that opened with Northwest Catholic winning the Class S state championship in 2015 has been slammed shut this spring.
Carlson anticipated it would not be easy to replace his entire pitching staff after Luke Fox, Shayne Rice, and Drew Hungerford all graduated last June. All three were freshmen pitchers on the team that won the state title in ’15.
“The pitching’s been okay,” Carlson said about his current group of arms. “We don’t hit. I’m baffled that teams throw their No. 1 [pitcher] against us. They can throw anyone against us and beat us right now. We don’t hit at all. We’re offensively challenged.”
The leadoff single by Evan Clark in the first was Northwest Catholic’s lone hit off New Britain right-hander Rufino Santiago, who wasn’t overpowering. He struck out two and walked one in a tidy complete game.
The New Britain infielders were vacuum cleaners, sucking up groundballs and throwing to first base as if it were a practice drill. Sophomore third baseman Chris Gibbs sucked up three grounders in speedy 1-2-3 sixth for Santiago.
Northwest Catholic has scored two runs or less in six of its first 11 games. By Carlson’s estimation, his team has been in just four games.
The Lions beat Granby and Middletown, and had one-run losses to Bristol Eastern and Avon. In the other seven games, Northwest Catholic was outscored 58-11. That includes back-to-back losses to West Hartford rivals Conard and Hall to start the season.
For the first time in his 16 seasons as coach, Carlson said he did not make any preseason cuts because only 27 players were in the program.
“I usually have to cut in double digits,” he said.
Northwest Catholic would earn a berth in the state tournament by going 6-3 in its final nine games to finish with a .400 winning percentage, the minimum requirement to qualify. The other way is to finish among the top 32 teams in the Class S – the brackets must have at least that many – but that would take a great deal of leap-frogging by the Lions, who were 42nd among the 48 teams in the Class S rankings following the loss to New Britain.
“We’re in a position that we’re not used to being in, but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to compete. We’re going to compete until the end,” Carlson said. “We’re going to fight until the end here. We need to get on a little bit of a roll here or we’re going to be done in early May.”
Northwest Catholic faces Glastonbury at home on Monday, May 6.
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