BRISTOL, July 26 – The Avon American Legion baseball team had their backs to the wall. Post 201 needed to beat West Hartford on consecutive nights to earn a spot in the state championship series. But Avon made too many mistakes and left West Hartford with too many opportunities to score runs.
West Hartford had just four hits but took advantage of a season-high six errors by Avon, a pair of wild pitches and six walks to beat Avon, 6-2, Tuesday night at Muzzy Field earning their first appearance in the Connecticut state tournament finals since 1973.
West Hartford (22-9) will face either Trumbull or Stamford in the best-of-three championship series that begins Friday night at 6:30 p.m. at Palmer Field in Middletown. Game two and three, if necessary, will be Saturday at Palmer Field, beginning at 1 p.m. Avon concludes the season with a 23-8 record after winning two consecutive elimination games in the tournament.
“They simply played better that we did,” Avon coach Donny Annicelle said. “Our pitching was not up to the caliber that it has been all season. We gave them a bunch of opportunities and they capitalized on them. I give them all the credit in the world.”
West Hartford pitcher Michael Matthews scattered five hits and struck out four to earn the win for Post 96. “He is the type of pitcher that wants to be in that moment,” West Hartford manager Tim Hungerford said. “We lined him up for the big games.
“I thought he was the best pitcher in this tournament,” he said. “He pounded the strike zone and really hit his spots. It was fun to sit back and watch. He makes good pitches and makes you beat him.”
West Hartford got out an early lead on Post 201 starter Chris Jacobs, who struggled with walks, giving up five. In the second inning, Jacobs loaded the bases with just one out thanks to two walks and a single to Max Main. Jacobs struck out one batter but walked West Hartford’s Patrick Baron to walk in a run and give Post 96 a 1-0 lead.
Brady Williamson made some nice catches in left field, including one in the fourth inning that he chased down.
West Hartford broke through in the fifth inning as Avon committed three errors, Jacobs had a pair of wild pitches and hit a batter. One run scored on a wild pitch and a second run scored on an error. Two more unearned runs came on a two-run double from Max Main (2-for-4, two RBI) for a 5-0 lead.
Kyle Emery came on in relief of Jacobs in the fifth inning. In the sixth, Emery got into trouble as he loaded the bases with one out thanks to two walks and a single. But Emery got West Hartford’s Joe Celio to fly out to Joe Suski in center field. Suski fired the ball home and threw out Patrick Baron, who was trying to score from third base for a double play to end the inning.
Avon cut the lead to three runs, 5-2, in the bottom of the fifth inning. Ryan Ollestad and Miles Borenstein led off with singles. Ollestad scored on Kyle Zarwanski’s (2-3) RBI single and Borenstein scored on an infield ground ball.
Avon had runners on first and second base in the sixth inning but Matthews got Jeremy Zarwanski to pop out to shortstop and Ollestad hit a long, deep ball to right field that was caught to end the inning.
West Hartford added another run in the seventh thanks to a pair of Avon errors for a 6-2 advantage.
Kyle Zarwanski had two hits for Post 201 while Ollestad, Borenstein and Justin Olsen each had hits.
Things got a little ugly in the seventh inning when Annicelle tried to protest the game because an ineligible West Hartford player helped warm up a teammate in the bullpen during the game. At Muzzy Field, the bullpens are in foul territory in the outfield down the first base and third base lines.
The West Hartford player had played in a Player Showcase during the first weekend of the state tournament and was declared ineligible. Players aren’t allowed to participate in player showcase events once the state tournament begins, according to state American Legion baseball rules on their website (Rule 6D).
The game umpires ruled that the bullpens were extensions of the dugout and dismissed the protest. The ineligible West Hartford player was allowed to be in the dugout in uniform to be with his teammates, according to David Greenleaf, the state tournament director who was at the game.
At a coaches meeting prior to the start of the Northern and Southern Division tournaments, Greenleaf said it would be OK for ineligible players to join their teammates in the dugout. “They shouldn’t have been in the dugout,” Greenleaf said after the game. “That’s my fault. I allowed them to be in the dugout. (The player) never got into the game and never got a chance to affect the game.”
Avon was leading Southington, 8-0, in a best-of-3 Northern Division series last week when Annicelle unknowingly put an ineligible pitcher in the game. Avon forfeited the game and had to play an extra game, beating Southington with a 4-3 decision in game three.
Players from Southington, Berlin, Avon and West Hartford participated in Player Showcase events after the tournament began on July 15 and were disqualified from participating in the state American Legion baseball tournament.
“I want to apologize to the West Hartford coaches,” Annicelle said afterwards. “I didn’t like it when it was brought up against us (Southington) and I shouldn’t have brought it up against them. I should have let it be. They deserved to win the game and we didn’t. I feel really bad about that and I know they are upset with me.”
Hungerford declined to comment on Annicelle’s protest and apology after the game.
He and Post 96 were thrilled with the victory. “It’s a special moment and I get to enjoy this with my son,” Hungerford said. “We’re trying to enjoy this every step of the way. We’re in position to do something special. I told them to make sure like a sponge today. Soak it in and enjoy the moment.”
NOTES: Avon won four games in the state tournament – its second-best effort. In 2012, Avon won five games in the tournament and set a team record with 24 wins (24-11) that season. … It was the second win by West Hartford over Post 201 in less than a week. West Hartford beat Avon on Saturday with a 7-2 victory in the opener of this Northern Division round.
West Hartford 6, Avon 2
West Hartford (22-9) 010 040 1 — 6-4-0
Avon (23-8) 000 020 0 — 2-5-6
Michael Matthews and Sean Langan; Chris Jacobs, Kyle Emery (5) and Jeremy Zarwanski; WP: Matthews; LP: Jacobs (6-1); 2B: Max Main (WH); 3B: none; HR: none
Connecticut State Tournament
Northern Division Regional final
At Muzzy FIeld, Bristol
Saturday, July 22
Game 1: West Hartford 7, Avon 2
Game 2: South Windsor 4, Waterford 0
Sunday, July 23
Game 3: Avon 6, Waterford 1, Waterford eliminated
Game 4: West Hartford 16, South Windsor 7
Monday, July 24
Game 5: Avon 4, South Windsor 2, South Windsor eliminated
Tuesday, July 25
Game 6, Final: West Hartford 6, Avon 2, Avon eliminated
Southern DIvision Regional finals
At Palmer Field, Middletown
Saturday, July 22
Game 1: Stamford 4, Greenwich 1
Game 2: Cheshire 1, Trumbull 0
Sunday, July 23
Game 3: Trumbull 8, Greenwich 1, Greenwich eliminated
Game 4: Stamford 4, Cheshire 1
Monday, July 24
Game 5: Trumbull 2, Cheshire 1, Cheshire eliminated
Tuesday, July 25
Game 6: Trumbull 3, Stamford 2
Wednesday, July 26
Game 7, Final: Trumbull vs. Stamford, 6:30 p.m.
State championship finals
Best of three
At Middletown, Palmer Field
Friday, July 28
Game 1: West Hartford vs. Southern Division champion, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 29
Game 2: West Hartford vs. Southern Division champion, 1 p.m.
Game 3: West Hartford vs. Southern Division champion, 4 p.m., if necessary