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Connor Podeszwa: What, him worry?

Waterford — The state tournament knockout game was suddenly tied in the fifth inning Wednesday, an occasion to perhaps crumble at the precarious circumstances: The season might be over in an hour.

And so the baseball players at Waterford High, now in a 2-2 game, assembled in a circle before their turn to hit. Connor Podeszwa sprinted off the field — bouncing with joy, actually — in spite of the game's new developments, reaching the guys in time to deliver a brief pep talk:

"Now is not the time," he said, "to get a tight (buttocks)."

OK. So his advice wasn't necessarily family friendly. But it's what needed to be said. And darn, if the Lancers, whose championships in multiple sports show they rarely battle tightness, quickly scored five runs and moved to Saturday's Class M quarterfinals.

Podeszwa's advice was an oldie-but-goodie from the Unwritten Coaching Manual. "You can't play with a tight (buttocks)" came from his dad, Chris, an all-timer in Lancer Lore & Legend and the assistant baseball coach at UConn. Connor Podeszwa sounded like a coach's kid because he is one.

"I've been hearing that from my dad since I was seven years old with him on the Cape," Podeszwa said. "He always does this (Podeszwa formed the shape of a circle with his thumb and index finger, a baseball image for tightening up). You've got to stay loose. You really can't play this game with a tight (buttocks). If you do, that little white ball will find you. Baseball is a game of failure and you have to learn how to deal with that."

There may be no more exciting household in Connecticut sports right now than the Podeszwas. Chris and the Huskies begin play Michigan in the NCAA Tournament on Friday at Notre Dame. Connor and the Lancers are in the Class M baseball quarters. Emilia and the softball team play in the Class L quarters Friday. Sophia is running track at UConn. And then Isa, the mom, is the true MVP holding everything else together, not to mention trying to watch Connor and Emilia play on adjacent fields at the same time Wednesday.

"There always competition in our house," Connor said. "My older sister has track. My younger sister has softball. And then it's fun tuning in watching the Huskies play on the weekends. Dad's all over the place. Packing bags. Not sure if he's going to be at my games or not. My mom is so hard working. I appreciate her. Always driving me to games. Always there for us."

Connor Podeszwa could certainly fall victim to his previous advice. He plays in a program with 11 state championships. In a town with considerable expectations. With a dad who is a coach and was an accomplished player. And yet ... there's no other kid around who plays with as much joy. Even in moments of peril Wednesday, there was Podeszwa smiling.

"This is a game," he said. "You've got to have fun playing a game or else it's not really a game anymore."

And the Lancers take their cues from him.

"Well, he's our captain, so we have to listen to him," teammate Evan McCue said, grinning.

Then he said more seriously, "He has fun playing. Of course we listen to him. We look up to him. The whole team does."

McCue got the game's biggest hit Wednesday, personifying Podeszwa's advice. With two on and none out in a tie game, McCue failed to get a bunt down. Instead of tightening, he rifled a two-strike single to right and gave Waterford the lead for good.

See? They really do listen.

"Connor just gets it," Waterford coach Art Peluso said. "He just plays with joy. He's been doing it for us since sophomore year. He was part of the best game for us in a long time. It rivaled when you're up at a basketball game at the 'X' and the crowd is going crazy. Baseball isn't like that.

"But when we played Wethersfield in second round in 2019 he was a sophomore. He drove in the tying run, scored the winning run and closed it out on the mound. As a sophomore without the body or stuff that he's got now. He plays fearlessly. I'll go to him and say 'look, this is what needs to be discussed.' It's not my team. It's their team. They're the guys who play. When things have to be addressed, he's a great kid to address them."

Podeszwa gets the ball Saturday against a tough cookie in Sheehan, a four-time state champion. A win would get the Lancers to the semifinals and a potential game with top-seeded East Catholic. It would mean that the son of UConn's assistant coach would be playing against the son (Hank Penders) of UConn's head coach (Jim Penders.)

"We've got to win Saturday first," Connor Podeszwa said. "But we've been talking about playing with each other and against each other since we were little kids at UConn. That's a great team. It would be a great game — if we're fortunate enough to get there."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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