MIDDLETOWN, July 23 – Not every player on the Avon American Legion baseball team gets equal time on the field. But coach Brian Doyle has repeatedly told his team that every player is crucial to the success of the squad. “We need everyone at some point of the season,” Doyle said.
On Monday night, Jake Bryant got his opportunity to contribute and came through with two key hits in the ninth and 12th inning to help Avon erase a four-run deficit and stun host Middletown, 6-4 in 12 innings at Palmer Field to earn a spot in the 16-team, double elimination portion of the American Legion state tournament.
The state tournament begins Saturday at Bristol’s Muzzy Field and in Stamford.
Bryant, who graduated from The Master’s School in West Simsbury in June, came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning to pinch hit for pitcher Michael Castellani with Avon (21-8) trailing by three runs, 4-1. Bryant singled between third and shortstop and moved to second base on a walk from Liam O’Connor.
With one out, Matt Koenig’s base hit loaded the bases. Catcher Cody Doyle, who was 0-for-4 at that point, ripped a two-RBI single down the left field line that the Middletown third baseman nearly snagged out of the air to trim the lead to one, 4-3. Noah Hahn, who was 0-for-3 in the game, got a base hit up the middle allowing O’Connor to score and tie the game at 4-4.
“It was the most unlikely win ever,” Brian Doyle said with a shrug. “It didn’t look like we would come back. But we found a way to win.”
Connor Doyle, a versatile infielder, came on relief in the ninth and pitched four solid innings. “He pitched out of a lot of trouble. (Connor) is a position player who competes,” Brian Doyle said. He got help from his defense that gunned a lead runner at third base in one inning and at second base in another inning.
In the 12th inning, Avon finally broke through. George Nurisso led off with a single between third base and shortstop and moved to second base on a ground ball out. With two strikes and no balls on him, Nicholas Sanderson battled to coax a walk. Again, Bryant came up big with a booming two-RBI double for a 6-4 lead.
“He is always the first kid at practice,” Brian Doyle said of Bryant. “He always takes two rounds of batting practice. He doesn’t play as much as he should but he has never said boo about it.”
Castellani helped keep Avon in the game. Middletown took a 4-0 lead in the second inning and had the bases loaded in the third when Castellani came on in relief to get the final out. From that point, he pitched five innings, striking out four, walking two and scattering three hits.
“He’s one of the best left-handers in the state,” said Doyle. Castellani will be a senior at Avon Old Farms next year. Avon cut the lead to three in the seventh. With two outs, Castellani singled, moved to second on a walk and took third when Connor Doyle singled to left field. Castellani scored on a RBI single from Koenig.
It is the second straight appearance for Avon in the final 16 of the American Legion state tournament. A year ago, Avon dropped tight decisions to Middletown, 3-1 and Branford, 2-1.
Avon is one of three Zone 1 teams in the final 16 of the tournament with Zone 1 champion Southington. In other tournament action, Unionville clinched a spot in the final 16 with a pair of wins including a 2-1 win over New London in 12 innings.
Simsbury won its first play-in game with a 6-1 win over Moosup but was eliminated in a 1-0 loss to Milford. Thanks to its second place finish in Zone 1, Bristol needed just one why to qualify for the final 16 but Post 2 was eliminated in a 4-2 loss to Oxford on Monday night.