HARTFORD, April 27 – Earlier in the month, the Avon High baseball team opened the 2017 season by playing Windsor under the lights on Champion Field in Orlando, Florida, the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves.
But when the Falcons stepped into Dunkin’ Donuts Park on Thursday afternoon prior to their Central Connecticut Conference game with Bulkeley/Weaver, they didn’t just march right in. They stopped and stood in the concourse and looked around. A few jaws dropped, Avon High coach Jon Yolles said.
“They were pretty much in awe when we got here,” Yolles said. Added Falcon catcher Jeremy Zarwanski, “Coming here was so exciting. I know the whole team was excited for this.”
It was the second high school game to be played in the new $71 million stadium, home of the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies – the Hartford Yard Goats. At least another seven high school games are scheduled to be played at the ballpark over the next month. And some CIAC tournament semifinal games are scheduled to be played here in June.
“We’re trying to make an impact in the community and be a resource that wasn’t here in the past,” said Andres Levy, director of Hospitality and Events for the Yard Goats. “This meant a lot to (the players).”
Added Yolles, “This was incredible. If I could play (here) every year I would.”
On the field, Avon junior pitcher Connor Harris had a career afternoon. Harris struck out a career-high 17 batters to lead the Falcons to their fourth straight win in a 6-1 victory over Bulkeley/Weaver.
Harris (2-0) struck out the side in four innings, including the seventh inning. Ten batters struck out looking including the last five Bulkeley/Weaver hitters of the game.
“He pitched phenomenally,” Zarwanski said. “From last year, he has taken a huge step up. He hit every single spot I put down. He was a machine. He’s grown up and he’s stronger. You can tell he has been in the weight room.”
“I felt great,” said Harris, who was clocked as high as 78 mph on the Yard Goats pitching speed gun. “I came out of the gate throwing strikes and trusting my skills.”
Avon (4-2) grabbed an early 3-0 lead. Justin Olsen led off the game with a walk and moved to third base on a one-out double by Zarwanski. Both eventually scored on Bulkeley/Weaver errors. Brendan Dyer’s RBI single drove in Chris Jacobs for a three-run lead.
Bulkeley/Weaver’s Dennis Rivera dropped a pop fly just behind second base, moved to second base on an infield groundout and scored on Junior Bonilla’s RBI double to left field. But that would be the extent of Bulkeley/Weaver’s offense against Harris.
Avon extended its lead to 4-1 in the fourth inning when Olsen reached on an error and scored on a two-out single from Zarwanski. In the fifth inning, Dyer walked and scored on a two-out double to centerfield from Will Boone to give the Falcons a 5-1 advantage.
Harris went the distance on the mound – a helpful achievement for the Falcons, who will play seven games in the next nine days.
“He was just really good,” Yolles said. “He was in total control of the game.”
Avon hosts Southington on Friday at Buckingham at 3:45 p.m. and travels to Enfield for a 2 p.m. contest on Saturday. Next week, Avon hosts Farmington at Buckingham on Monday, travels to Conard on Tuesday, travels to Northwest Catholic on Wednesday and closes out the week by hosting Glastonbury on Friday, May 5.
NOTES: The first high school game played at Dunkin Donuts Park was on Monday when Stafford beat Sport Medicine Science Academy (SMCA), 8-5. … Harris’ 17-strikeout performance sets the bar high for high school pitching performances in the new facility. … Upcoming high school games at the home of the Yard Goats include South Windsor vs. RHAM (May 4, 5:30 p.m.); Hartford Public vs. East Catholic (May 6, 7 p.m.); SMSA vs. Coventry (May 16, 7 p.m.), SMSA vs. Suffield (May 22, 7 p.m.); Two Rivers vs. HMTCA (May 23, 4 p.m.); Bulkeley vs. Hartford Public (May 23, 7 p.m.) and Bulkeley vs. Gilbert (May 25, 6 p.m.) … A little over 100 fans watched the game. … Zarwanski was 2-for-4 with one RBI for the Falcons — the only player in the game with multiple hits. … Avon has won four straight games after opening the season with back-to-back losses to Windsor and Wethersfield.
The University of Hartford hosts Army on May 7 in the second collegiate contest at the stadium. … In the future, Yard Goats’ Andres Levy hopes to attract a college conference baseball tournament. Some American Legion baseball games will be played here this summer, Levy said. Could there be other sports played here? “Perhaps,” Levy said. “This venue will be more than just Hartford Yard Goat baseball games.” … Shortly after the game was complete, the YMCA of Greater Hartford held its 164th annual meeting in the ballpark’s large Yard Goats Stadium Club, a 7,000 square foot club suite behind home plate. The club is advertising on its website that the facility is available to host weddings, banquets, corporate events, meetings and more.
Avon 6, Bulkeley/Weaver 1
At Hartford (Dunkin Donuts Park)
Avon (4-2) 300 111 0 – 6-5-0
Bulk/Weav (2-4) 100 000 0 –1-2-6
Connor Harris and Jeremy Zarwanski; Gabriel Ocasio and Kevin Fuentes; WP: Harris (2-0); LP: Ocasio; 2B: Will Boone (A), J. Zarwanski (A), Junior Bonilla (B)