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2024 Baseball Preview: Centaurs start anew under Elliott's guidance

It’s been a long time since Connor Elliott strolled the sidelines for an athletic program at Woodstock Academy.

Well, in his mind anyway.

The assistant football coach for the Centaurs last was on the field on Thanksgiving Day and then had to weather the winter.

“Football came to an abrupt end, and then it was the holidays and the semester changed but in late January, it’s like two months to get to this point. And even now, the weather still wants to tease you. I’m very happy to be back together (with the baseball team),” Elliott said.

That happened for the first time as a true team last Tuesday.

The first official baseball game is Saturday against non-league foe, Northwest Catholic in West Hartford at 10 a.m. 

“I prefer it,” Elliott said of the short prep time for the entire team.

Pitchers and catchers were allowed begin the week before.

“In football, talk about a tease, you have five weeks before that first game,” he added with a laugh.

Elliott was the assistant last year to Brian Murphy who stepped aside following the season.

“I can’t say enough good things about Coach Elliott,” senior pitcher and infielder Eric Mathewson said. “He’s a great coach and bonds with the players really well but he also has that grit to him where he can get serious if he needs to and get mad at kids. He has a great offensive and defensive mind, is great at calling pitches and he has a very high baseball IQ. It’s hard coming from Coach Murphy with so much baseball experience and knowledge to a younger coach. It will be a transition but the guys on this team will be ready for it.”

Elliott will actually be the old timer on a coaching staff that will include fellow young baseball minds, Troy Stefanski who played at UConn and will serve as hitting coach and Max Grossman who will work with the pitchers.

The pitching will be a key for the Centaurs.

Brady Ericson returns after a phenomenal sophomore season where he finished 6-0 with an 0.70 earned run average.

Ericson allowed just four earned runs and 15 hits in 39 2/3 innings, struck out 76 and walked 19.

“Less walks,” Elliott said matter-of-factly when asked where Ericson, who has already committed to play for UConn in a couple of years, could improve. “There will come a point in time in his life where he will realize that ‘Wow, this game that I’ve been making look so easy, isn’t, really.’ I hope that is not this year but a little adversity will go a long way with that young man. He makes it look so easy, loves playing the game, loves hanging out with his friends. You can see the passion for the game in his eyes. I think he is a kid who wants and needs to be challenged.”

Both on the mound and at the plate.

He hit .343 with three homers, five doubles and two triples and drove in 19 runs last season.

“I want to be more consistent, to be able to go opposite field on pitches, not try and pull everything because then (the defense) will find the hole and I will be a liability. I just want to improve on the little things, which is a big thing for our team this season. As long as I can get one percent better on those little things every day, it will end up being a big thing,” Ericson said.

One thing he said he is adjusting to is how teams are trying to pitch around him, something that happened often in summer ball.

“They try to do things to mess with me but I just don’t really think about it much. That’s what they are trying to do to get me out, props to them, and it means I have to work my hardest and figure out what they are trying to do and make it work for me,” the junior said.

Mathewson is another key contributor at the plate and on the mound.

He finished with a .347 average with seven doubles and 11 runs driven in.

“I don’t know if we need a little more offense, last year, we were pretty strong on the offensive side of the ball and I know we’re ready to come back strong this year with a fire in our bellies ready to succeed,” Mathewson said.

The senior was often the closer on the mound, giving up just five earned runs in 20 innings with 29 strikeouts.

Riley O’Brien is another member of the mound staff who enters his fourth season as a starting pitcher for the Centaurs.

He finished with a 5-2 record, going 31 innings with 33 K’s for the Centaurs.

“It’s been nice having these four years of high school to play here and, hopefully, I will get a chance to play next year for the University of Southern Maine. I want to stay more consistent in games. I think I averaged a hit batter a game last year and I want to reduce my walks,” O’Brien said.

Pitchers and utility players Jack Sumner and Eli Smith, outfielder/infielder Keon Lamarche, outfielder/pinchrunner David Bunning and outfielder Noah Sampson, who returns after a year with the lacrosse program, are the other seniors.

Another player likely in his last season with the Centaurs is junior shortstop Maxx Corradi who hit .296 with five doubles and 10 runs batted in.

“I would like an asterisk on (Corradi’s batting average). He hit more balls hard that got him out than any kid I can remember since I’ve been coaching. He’s been lining out, hit one hoppers into double plays, there were diving catches. His stats don’t really mirror what he did,” Elliott said. “We need to be more process-based at the plate. It will be a theme for the year, ‘Did we do what we needed to do?’ Are the results not there, why?”

Sophomores Caleb Simoneau and Brady Lecuyer and junior Tanner Graham will share the catching duties.

Other juniors on the squad include Bradley Blair (pitcher/infielder). Matt Hernandez (outfield) and Haydon Rowland (infield). Sophomore Logan Coutu (pitcher/utility) will also see varsity time.

The Centaurs had a strong regular season a year ago where they posted a 17-3 record  and advanced to the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship game where they lost to East Lyme.

But the state tournament was a disappointment as Masuk came to Woodstock and knocked out the Centaurs in the first round as they finished 19-5.

“I will trade regular season success for postseason success,” Elliott said. “I still have a bad taste in my mouth from last year as to how we lost in the state tournament. Things we knew were issues for us, as a staff and the players were not unaware, all kind of reared their heads in the playoffs; not hitting with two outs, leaving runners in scoring position, outfield play, missing signs. Little things that when they were all added up, you lose 5-0 at home as a four-seed in a state playoff game.”