Pictured: After winning 21 games this summer, the majority of Post 75’s team is eligible to return in 2022.

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

With summer baseball season drawing to a close, time for some notes and observations from the fields …

It was good of the Connecticut American Legion Baseball leadership to tweet out its appreciation for “everyone’s flexibility with this years state and regional tournaments.”

“Certainly a “different” year with some hiccups getting back in the groove, and much was learned,” the tweet read. “Feedback will be considered for next year’s tournament.”

Let’s hope so. After not sponsoring baseball in 2020 because of the pandemic, the Legion’s leadership executed the unusual scenario of playing a Northeast Regional qualifier first and the state tournament a week later. NCL advanced as the regional rep and 32 deserving teams got to have, however brief, a state tournament experience.

However, I couldn’t find one person who wasn’t unhappy with the five-games-in-six-days format. It was panned by coaches and players (and apparently some umpires) alike.

With the regional qualifier having wrapped, it’s hard to understand what the rush was to get the single-elimination played in less than a week.

It gave the impression of, hey, let’s get this over with.

Ultimately, cramming five games into such a tight window cheated everyone out of a chance to see the best baseball possible when the stakes were highest. I’m talking about the Middletown-Avon semifinal.

Middletown’s top four arms (ace Alex Mach, Tiernan Powers, Brent Gilson and Griffin Biro) maxed out their pitch-count eligibility in wins over Naugatuck (2-1 in 8 innings), Norwich (2-0) and Waterford (6-5).

Mach, who’s developed into quite the talent in the last two years, went seven against Naugy and would not have been able to throw again for four days — until Sunday’s championship game, had the 75ers made it there. When you see Mach pitch once, you just want more.

Game 2 winner Powers, who went six scoreless against Norwich, could only play the field the rest of the way. Gilson finished up for Powers and then started Game 3. That was it for him. Griffin Biro kept the 75ers alive with a sensational 3 2/3 innings of relief, but he was done for the rest of the way, too.

Facing Avon, coach Dan Botti was asking a lot from Ryan Michaud, his regular first baseman. Michaud allowed eight runs (four earned) in the first two innings. He’s not a pitcher.

Meanwhile, Avon’s emergency plan featured Danny Galliher (6 walks in 1 2/3 innings), Nick Amatulli (3 walks and four batters total) and finally Ty Bonney, who was terrific over the last five innings in his first (and only) mound appearance of the summer.

Avon won the game 11-7 despite walking 12.

“It certainly wasn’t the greatest brand of baseball pitching-wise,” Avon coach Miles Borenstein said, opting for a diplomatic take.

Botti didn’t think the situation was fair to anyone.

“We would have loved to have a day off, but we had to roll with what we had,” he said. “Everyone knew this was a joke — 11-7 in a state semifinal? I know the pitchers they’ve got and I know the pitchers I’ve got, and if either of us is throwing our (Nos.) 1, 2, 3 or 4 guys, that would be a really good ballgame. I don’t understand how it would have killed anybody to have a day off in between games or two games played and a day off. Anything but four games in a row.”

Botti pointed out how well a CIAC 32-game tournament bracket, also single elimination, works in a little less than two weeks’ time.

“There’s no reason why we couldn’t copy the format and no reason why this had to be played in six days,” he said. “I don’t know why we’re pressing this to finish on (August 8). Next year has to be better. It’s not fair to the kids who work this hard and it’s not fair to the teams. The fans, they’re used to watching good baseball. That’s the worst game we’ve played all year.”

In the last normal season (2019), a pod system was used and it worked well: two divisions, four pods, four teams per pod, last one left standing advanced to a final eight (double elimination) to determine the state champ. The blueprint already exists for going forward.

A final state tournament thought: A championship game cannot be played at Ceppa Field or any field not named Palmer or Muzzy. No offense to the good folks in Meriden, but Ceppa Field reminds me of Pat Kidney Field in the 1980s.

If the Legion wants to continue showcasing itself as a better alternative to pricey travel teams/leagues, with the pride element of players representing a town or towns, these games should be played at the very best ballparks. South Windsor’s Rotary Field has limited seating, no bullpens and mosquitoes.

I’m biased. Palmer Field, first choice, unless it’s flooded.

Bonney, an outfielder who played for Plainville High, just finished his first summer of Legion baseball. I asked him why, at 18, he was playing at this level for the first time.

“I played with the Connecticut Blue Jays (a travel team) for years and it was just too expensive,” he said. “I’m already going to a school to play baseball and so I decided I needed to take it back and save money for college.”

Bonney will go on to play at UConn-Avery Point.

“One of my buddies is going there, too,” he said. That would be Post 75 second baseman Jack Konopka, and Mach and Powers also will be teammates.

“Playing for Legion was a great experience,” Bonney added. “We had tons of fun. It’s nothing like travel ball. It’s way different. I learned new things. It was a great experience this year.”

Middletown won 21 games this summer without the benefit of a player having a year of college experience. Compare that to Waterford, which had five college pitchers in its lineup (six if you count its starting pitcher).

Imagine what the 75ers might have accomplished had left-hander Logan Wenzel (torn labrum) been available, if infielder Hugh Barrett hadn’t played hurt for a good stretch and then suffer a season-ending broken wrist, or if Colin Loria hadn’t been sidelined by a hip injury for more than seven weeks?

Only Biro, Konopka and Barrett have aged out of the program. Eight of the nine in the starting lineup against Avon are eligible to return in 2022: Ryan Quinn (MHS), Mike Garofalo (St. Thomas More), Michaud (Eastern Connecticut), Clancy (AIC), Loria (Xavier), Powers (UConn-Avery Point), Powell (MHS) and Spencer Misenti (Xavier), as well as Mach (Avery Point) and Gilson.

 

Misenti, Powell and Luke Weisenberg were 17U call-ups this season, earning valuable experience that again will mix well with the veterans in 2022.

 

Quinn and Weisenberg will have Powell as a Middletown High teammate next spring. Powell was a student at Capital Prep last year. He will be a junior this year.

 

Botti really came into his own this season as the 75ers’ coach. He had to pull a lot of levers to get the right fits in key spots because of injuries and player departures. He’s not much older than his most senior players, but he cares about them and has the right temperament for the job. A bright future is in store for Dan Botti.

 

My pick for 75ers MVP: Mach, after a season of 55 1/3 innings over 8 starts, 4 complete games, 4-1 record, 1.36 ERA (10 earned runs on 32 hits), .94 WHIP, 66 strikeouts and 16 walks. Powers also was phenomenal on the bump — 7-0 with an ERA of 0.00 over 32 2/3 innings (19 hits allowed), 47 strikeouts, 14 walks and 2 saves.

 

Finally, Middletown has been playing American Legion baseball since 1947. Legion ball used to be king in the city. Maybe what the 75ers accomplished leads to a sort of renaissance for the game, here, going forward.

 

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