MIDDLETOWN, July 28 – West Hartford American Legion baseball coach Tim Hungerford was relaxed Tuesday night at Muzzy Field in Bristol. And why not? His Post 96 had beaten Avon for the second time in four days and earned a spot in the American Legion state championship series.
West Hartford would be facing Stamford for the state title. The two teams played game one of the best-of-3 state championship series on Friday night at Palmer Field. The last time that West Hartford won the Legion state championship was 1973.
He wanted them to enjoy the moment. “They’ve worked so hard. They’ve been through so much adversity,” Hungerford said. Injuries have been a nuisance throughout the season. West Hartford lost some tough games in the final weeks of the regular season.
They had one of their starting pitchers declared ineligible hours before the playing two-time defending state champion RCP (Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland) in a best-of-three series.
“We preached to the kids to have fun, enjoy the moment, play loose and care about one another,” he said. “We’re clearly the underdog (to Stamford). We’re the eighth seed (in the Northern Division). But the kids are having fun.
“Nothing right now is about wins and losses. It’s really about five years from now. All the kids will remember is the people they have met and the memories they have made,” Hungerford said.
West Hartford (24-10) won the final five games of the regular season and then six of their first seven post-season games including beating RCP in a best-of-3 series, two games to one, with a 4-1 victory in game three.
“We try to have them enjoy the moment and don’t let it be bigger than it is,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s an American Legion baseball game. There are certainly a lot of other things going on in the world that are bigger than that.”
Stamford took a little joy out of West Hartford’s season Friday night in the opening contest of the state championship series with a 6-2 victory at Palmer Field. Stamford had 11 hits as they took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series.
Game two will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday, followed by game three, if necessary, immediately following game two.
Stamford’s Conor Nickerson was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles to lead Stamford while Michael Tufano and Michael Lisinicchia were each 2-for-3.
Stamford (28-6) finished third in Zone 2 and won six consecutive state tournament games before dropping a 3-2 decision to Trumbull in the Southern Division finals. But the next day, Post 3 beat Trumbull, 4-1 to earn a spot in the final.
Stamford beat Zone 2 champion Greenwich in the tournament. Trumbull finished second in Zone 2. Post 3 is the championship series for the third consecutive season. They lost the previous two series’ to RCP.
On Friday night, three Post 3 pitchers limited West Hartford to just four hits. Starting pitcher Adam Stone went six innings, gave up all four hits but struck out seven.
Stamford took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a wild pitch. In the second inning, Tufano drove in a run with a double and a third run scored on a wild pitch for a 3-0 lead.
West Hartford cut the lead in the third inning. Daniel Roth singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, stole third base and scored on Joe Celio’s infield ground ball.
Post 96 cut the lead to 3-2 in the fifth inning. Roth (2-for-4) doubled, moved to third on an infield ground ball and scored on Celio’s RBI single. Celio was 2-for-4 with pair of RBI for West Hartford.
Stamford extended their lead to 6-2 in the sixth inning on RBI singles from T.J. Wainwright and Tufano. The third run came in on a walk.
Both teams will advance to the Northeast Regional tournament in Shreswbury, Mass.,beginning on Wednesday, August 2. Connecticut has two entries in the tournament this year.
NOTES: In that 1957 championship series that Stamford won their last state title, Post 3 beat West Hartford in a best-of-3 series, 2-1. … West Hartford has won three Northeast Regional titles in 1973, 1961 and 1959.
Stamford 6, West Hartford 2
West Hartford (24-10) 001 010 000 — 2-4-2
Stamford (28-6) 120 003 00x — 6-11-2
Luke Fox, James Gaude (6), Patrick Baron (8) and Sean Langan; Adam Stone, Bobby Cribbin (7), Hunter Sentinel (9) and Tim Mira; WP: Stone; LP: Fox; 2B: Daniel Roth (WH), Conor Nickerson (S) 2; 3B: none; HR: none