Baseball team out to defend CRAL title

Anuj Patel ‘23 at the plate.

With spring sports starting a couple of weeks into March, baseball season has now officially begun!

The University/Classical team will be coached by Joe Miller and assistant Coach James Gorss. This will be Miller’s seventh year as Head Coach and Gorss’s second year as assistant coach.

“I’m really glad to have Coach Gorss back”, says Coach Miller. “He knows baseball, he’s always looking out for our guys, and it’s good to have some stability from year to year.”

The baseball team performed exceptionally last season with a record of 13-7 (12-1 in conference) and a huge win in the CRAL championship, the first time the UHSSE baseball team has won their conference. The team ended their season in the state tournament with a loss against Grasso Tech.

Coach Miller highlights the team’s past success but stresses the importance of maintaining a fighting spirit. “One of the things about being the defending champion is that every team circles us on their schedule and every team wants to be the team that beats the defending champion,” said Coach Miller. “Knowing that every team is going to want to play their best game against us, we have to hold ourselves to a high standard every day.”

Taking on the role of head coach is naturally a large commitment, but Coach Miller’s passion for the sport makes the time spent worthwhile.  “I was the kid who watched 160 Red Sox games every summer. I knew all the players, the lineups, ate, drank, and breathed baseball for most of my childhood. I played in high school and when I started working in the Hartford schools, I was able to get into coaching for the first time,” said Coach Miller. “It’s a chance to give back to a sport that I love that has played a huge part in my life.”

The University/Classical team will have to replace five seniors who graduated as well as three underclassmen who transferred out or did not return. This includes their top pitcher and top two catchers, their starting center fielder, and their starting third baseman. Last year’s co-captains, Dante Bergantino and Rogelio Tejada, who were both named to the CRAL All-Conference Team, have both graduated.

“Every year we seem to have these questions at the start of the season, and every year we seem to be in the mix at the end,” said Coach Miller. “That doesn’t happen by accident. We just need to focus on the things we can control, be accountable, and work on getting better every day.”

As for key players, Coach Miller highlights UHSSE’s veterans. “Anuj Patel ’23 is going to have to bring some energy and set the tone for us in the infield and at the plate. Dario Bergantino ’24 and Garrett Bartko ’23 have given us some quality innings on the mound and we’re going to be leaning on them even more. Jaleel Jaggroo ’23 is a kid who has worked hard and been a great teammate and we’re hoping to get him on the field more this season.”

As well as upperclassmen, Coach Miller mentions sophomore players, Isiah Franklin ’25 and Jackson Marchetti ’25, as key players who started as freshmen last year and played during the offseason. “I’m expecting them to come in like veterans and lead by example.” Coach Miller also expects Christian Berrios ’24 and Abraham Tejada ’24, two players from Classical with game experience, to “play a big role this year.”

While he has not seen them on the field yet, Coach Miller also said that there will be several freshmen with solid baseball experience joining the team. “We’re going to have a lot of new faces, and we’re going to be counting on them right away,” said Coach Miller. “I think we are going to go as far as our younger players take us.”

This new season will come with new competition. While Capital Prep has left the playing field, HMTCA, and Aerospace/Bulkeley/Bloomfield have joined the league. Not to mention, International and East Windsor have a co-op team this year. Out-of-conference games include Prince Tech, Bolton, and Hartford Public.

“The conference schedule is going to be tougher, but I look at the schedule and see 20 competitive games,” said Coach Miller.

Patel hopes to build off last season’s momentum and win a state game. “My expectations are to win our conference because last year we were the first team to do so and we also want to win a state game because that has never been done before in our conference.”

Aside from the obvious motivator of qualifying for those higher levels of competition, Jaggroo highlights another valuable aspect of the game. “Honestly it’s just having fun”, said Jaggroo. “Obviously I care if we win, but I’m also having a lot of fun out there.”

The University/Classical baseball team’s first game of the season will be at Prince Tech on April 4. Their conference schedule begins April 17 on the road against Parish Hill, their competitor during last year’s CRAL championship. Coach Miller expects it to be an “intense game’’, as they are “especially tough to beat at their field”. If the team’s history is a sign of what the future holds, there is no doubt the University/Classical team will have an excellent start to their season.