Cheshire High School senior Ryan Scialabba and Mike Mercaldi have spent countless hours honing their baseball skills. While looking to win every time they step on the field, the boys feel that they’ve formed relationships that extend beyond the diamond.
“I’ve loved baseball ever since I could pick up a ball,” said Scialabba, who started playing at age 4. “I like the team aspect and how you need to grind at the game. You can play with friends or work out on your own.”
Before starting their final seasons at CHS, Scialabba and Mercaldi have committed to extend their baseball careers at Saint Anselm College (New Hampshire) and Eastern Connecticut State University, respectively.
“I’m excited and blessed to play at the next level,” stated Mercaldi.
“I’ve been working to become a college player for a while,” said Scialabba. “I went to a lot of showcases and practiced for hours with this goal in mind.”
Scialabba spoke with coaches about playing in Division I, but looked mostly at Saint Anselm, as well as UMass Boston, Mitchell College, and Assumption College in Massachusetts.
“The recruiting process was tough with COVID,” reflected Scialabba. “I was lucky that I could still go on tours. You had to have your temperature checked and wear a mask.”
In choosing Saint Anselm, he looks forward to playing in the Northeast-10 Conference for Head Coach Jerod Edmondson. Scialabba felt an instant connection with the school when taking a tour.
“The class sizes are perfect,” said Scialabba. “I was interested in their baseball program and the coaches felt the same way about me.”
Scialabba credits his father for his development as a player and person.
“He has done so much for me,” said Scialabba. “My dad helped me in T-ball and then we started traveling for games. We will often go down to D-Bat Cheshire (batting cage center) to work on my game.”
Scialabba has been an infielder throughout his career.
“I played mostly second base before moving to shortstop,” said Scialabba, who has competed for the Hamden Yard Dogs program for years. “Since the ball is often hit in the middle, you need to stay on your toes.”
While Scialabba will leave the state for college, Mercaldi preferred to stay closer to home. He chose to compete at ECSU over Nichols College (Massachusetts), Castleton State College (Vermont), and Plymouth State University (New Hampshire).
ECSU has won nine Little East Conference crowns.
“The coaching staff is amazing,” stated Mercaldi. “Coach (Brian) Hamm talked to me about their history and roster. They are known to have a very good D-III program.”
As a sophomore, he enjoyed participating in a clinic at the school.
“Right when I stepped on the baseball field, I was hooked to it. The field is set up right across from the campus,” recalled Mercaldi. “I went around the school and thought it is beautiful.”
He plans to pitch and hit at the next level.
“I feel confident coming into college because not a lot of guys are two-way players,” stated Mercaldi.
He started playing baseball at age 7.
“I also competed in basketball, but I was better at baseball, so I was stuck with it,” reflected Mercaldi. “When I was younger, I mainly played first base and outfield. It feels good to play more than one position because it shows how athletic you can be.”
He didn’t start pitching until his freshman year, but he has grown to love it.
“I like to be on the mound in front of everyone,” stated Mercaldi. “It feels good to be a leader on the field.”
Before coming to CHS, Scialabba grew up around the Rams baseball program. Since his dad used to assist retired head coach Bill Mrowka, he watched countless games and also volunteered as a bat boy.
When Mrowka stepped down in 2018, Mike Lussier was promoted from assistant to head coach.
“The whole Mrowka family has been so nice to me,” stated Scialabba. “I’ve known Coach Lussier for years. He is like a father to me.”
Lussier said that he is psyched for Scialabba to get to play college baseball.
“He is very intelligent in the game of baseball,” said Lussier. “Ryan is a great kid on and off the field.”
Scialabba also has a close relationship with Mrowka’s son Cooper. A 2015 CHS graduate and former co-captain/shortstop, Cooper has played at UMass and George Mason University (Virginia) in the college ranks.
“He is the reason why I wear number 9,” stated Scialabba. “He is a great kid and someone who I look up to in and out of baseball.”
In 2018, Scialabba realized his dream of becoming a member of the Rams.
“When I finally got to CHS as a freshman, it was funny because I was so used to going into the coaches locker room instead of the players,” stated Scialabba.
Due to an injury, he was able to see some varsity action in his first season.
“I was definitely nervous,” said Scialabba. “For the second batter of my first game, I remember making a play in the field and then I started feeling comfortable.”
The 2018 Rams ended the season on a high note, shutting out Ridgefield 1-0 in the Class LL final to earn the program’s first state title in 25 years.
“To have the team finally get a state championship was great,” reflected Scialabba.
After the Rams graduated co-captain Ben Schena, Scialabba became the starting shortstop as a sophomore. The remaining eight starters were all seniors.
“That season was the most fun I’ve had in baseball,” stated Scialabba. “The older guys took me in and did a great job leading the team.”
In batting at the bottom of the order, Scialabba hit .429 with 24 hits, 17 runs scored, and nine RBIs to earn All-Quinnipiac Division honors. He had a game-winning hit in a 3-2 victory over Trumbull and added a sacrifice fly to drive in the winning run in a 6-5 victory over Farmington in the Class LL First Round.
“I surprised myself and my dad, too,” recalled Scialabba. “I make goals before every season on my phone and lock it. I put in to hopefully hit .300 in my first year on varsity, so it felt great to exceed my expectations.”
The Rams lost the opener of the 2019 season, but responded with a 25-game win streak. In that streak, CHS rallied to beat Amity, 4-3, in the Southern Connecticut Conference final and win their first title in eight years.
“We had a great time winning so many games,” stated Scialabba. “We all played for each other.”
While looking to defend their state title, CHS fell 3-0 to eventual champion Staples in the semifinals.
“You hate losing for sure,” said Scialabba. “That game is definitely motivation to get back to the finals.”
Scialabba hoped to make another post-season run last year, but the 2020 season was wiped out by the pandemic.
“It was tough to not play, but I wanted to make the best of the situation,” recalled Scialabba, who got to play in the off-season from June through September. “The pandemic gave me time to get in the weight room and focus on my nutrition. I think at my last game at the high school, I weighed 140 pounds and now I’m at 175. I’m lucky enough to have a gym at my house.”
Like Scialabba, Mercaldi stayed in shape at home last spring and then returned to play for the Connecticut Bombers program.
“It felt amazing to get back on the field. I was in my house doing nothing for a long time,” stated Mercaldi, who played in showcases last year. “The Bombers had a lot of scouts and college players come to watch the games.”
This spring, Mercaldi seeks to earn a varsity spot for the first time at CHS.
“I feel confident about taking the field,” said Mercaldi. “I want to help us win this year.”
“He has gotten stronger since I last saw him,” said Lussier. “He can step into some fastballs this year and help us on the mound.”
Along with Scialabba and Mercaldi, junior third baseman Max Gustafson has also committed to play college baseball at Bryant University (Rhode Island).
“We have a lot of new guys looking really good,” stated Mercaldi.
After being the youngest varsity player two years ago, Scialabba is now leading the Rams as the captain.
“For me, the role is 100 percent an honor. It is something that I don’t take for granted,” said Scialabba. “As a team, I want us to have the best year possible and enjoy the game.”
To open the season on Saturday, the Rams visit Quigley Stadium to face host Notre Dame-West Haven at 11 a.m.