Pictured: Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland, with coach Paul Francis holding the trophy after winning the CTEBA title last summer, has a chance to qualify for the American Legion Northeast Regional next week. (Paul Augeri Photo)

By Paul Augeri

Last summer, Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland won the championship of the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association. The league was a scaled-down replacement of the American Legion baseball experience following a spring 2020 season of no high school baseball at all.

This summer, the Connecticut Legion season is almost back to pre-COVID normal. The state tournament begins in August, but preceding it the teams with the two-best records from the state’s five zones will participate in a qualifying tournament, with the winner advancing to the Northeast Regional beginning Aug. 3.

Post 105 (15-3), the champion of Zone 3, is the No. 3 seed in the double-elimination tournament and will host No. 6 Wallingford of Zone 2 on Monday (5:45pm) at Cromwell High School.

“Last year it was nice to win, but there was nothing else after it,” RCP coach Paul Francis said. “I’m not saying last summer wasn’t for real, but this summer definitely feels a little different and that helps us a little bit. I’m especially glad for the older guys. This is their last (RCP) go-round.”

Unbeaten RCP right-hander Ryan Robb (5-0, 0.72 ERA, 38 strikeouts in 39 innings) is expected to get the ball against Wallingford (16-5). Robb, who pitched in relief in his first college season at Division III Husson University, fronts a deep staff with Zach Zajac, Nick Polizonis, Justin Valentin and Jesse Frazer.

Over the winter, not knowing if a full Legion season would be allowed due to COVID, the organization’s leadership shifted its calendar. Connecticut’s qualifier for the regional would need to be certified by July 31 so that that tourney and the World Series could be played in their allotted time frame. The Northeast Regional and state tournament both begin on Aug 3. The state champion will not advance.

“It is a one-time-only COVID experiment that we probably won’t continue, but we will evaluate after the season,” David Greenleaf, the state director of American Legion baseball, told the Collinsville Press.

The winners of Saturday’s single-elimination play-in games — West Hartford at Greenwich and Norwich at NCL — move on to the final eight. Waterford is the top seed, Madison is second, Fairfield fourth, Meriden fifth, NCL seventh, Greenwich eighth and West Hartford ninth.

Games will be played Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with the higher seeds hosting. The semifinals Thursday and championship Friday are scheduled for Muzzy Field in Bristol.

“It’s going to be interesting for sure,” Francis said. “As long as we win our first, this kind of falls into our type of play with our pitching. We have the pitching to endure a stretch with the way the tournament is set up. “They’re all big games, but we have to win the first one.”

RCP wraps up its regular season Friday with an inconsequential road game against Northeast.

Middletown has qualified for the 32-team, single-elimination state tournament. The nine regional qualifiers will be cycled back into the state tournament. Pairings will be finalized next weekend.

The Northeast Regional will be played in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, followed by the World Series in Shelby, North Carolina.

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