HARWINTON, July 11 – Manager Stephen Harris has the cover of a pizza box folded neatly into his backpack that he brings to each game of Avon’s Major Division (ages 11-12) Little League baseball All-Star team.
It’s an old habit. He had a pizza box in his pack when he coached the 9-10 All-Star team two years ago and Avon’s Minor Division squad (ages 10-11) last year. On each box are the goals that the respective teams are aiming for.
Harris checked off one goal off this year’s pizza box last Wednesday when Avon rolled to its second straight District 6 championship with a 16-2 win over Burlington in four innings.
“Our goal, our mission is to collect three flags,” he said. “Win the District 6 flag, the Section II flag and state championship flag.”
Avon’s performance in the District 6 tournament was impressive. They went undefeated in seven games, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 80-4. They had four shutouts and the two runs they gave up to Burlington in the championship game were unearned.
In the win over Burlington, they had 13 hits, including eight extra base hits. They committed just one error and starting pitcher Sam Leopold struck out 10 batters and scattered four hits in just four innings of work.
Two days earlier, Avon had beaten Burlington by eight runs and Avon hurlers combined to fan 12 Burlington batters. Avon had seven strikeouts and 10 hits in a 11-0 win over Canton in the first game of the four-team double elimination portion of the tournament.
“We totally dominated in every aspect of the game,” Harris said of his team’s performance in the tournament. “It started with pitching. We have four (solid starting) pitchers. Everyone hits the ball. There is a lot of speed on the bases and we’re getting contributions from everyone up and down the lineup.”
Avon (7-0) will begin play today (July 18) in the Section II tournament in Mansfield with five games through July 23. The top two teams will play for the section championship on July 25. The two sectional champions play a best-of-3 series to determine the state champion and who qualifies to play in the Eastern Regional tournament in Bristol in August.
Ten of the 12 players on the roster played for Avon’s Minor Division team a year ago that won a District 6 title and Section II crown before getting swept in a best-of-3 series by Fairfield American in the state finals. In 2010, Harris’ team won the District 6 tournament in the 9-10 division and won two games in the Section II tournament.
It’s a group of players who have plenty of experience and skills. “We pay so much attention to details and skills,” Harris said. “We tell the players to trust their skills. They have worked hard to get as good as they are.”
Connor Harris, Dylan Nastri, Leopold and Will Boone lead up the pitching staff. Harris had six strikeouts against Canton. At the plate, Nastri, Leopold and Harris combined to hit 12 home runs in the tournament.
Nastri had two home runs in the championship game win over Burlington, including a three-RBI shot in the first inning as Avon quickly built an 8-0 lead thanks to five hits and four Burlington errors.
Blake Thompson had a two-run homer while Connor Harris added a solo shot for Avon. Adam Theriault had a double while Boone and Jack Stokesbury each had triples. Dan Renwick added an RBI single.
Against Canton, Avon scored 11 runs on nine hits in the first inning. Leopold and Harris each had home runs with Leopold sending a three-run blast over the fence and Harris blasting a two-run home run. Ryan Ollestead and Eamon Moore each had two-RBI singles in the rally. Will Tramann had an RBI single.
Canton loaded the bases with one out in the third and fourth innings. But each time, Avon was able to escape the jam. In the third, Harris ended the inning with a pair of strikeouts. In the fourth inning, Leopold came on in relief and got one Canton runner to ground out and ended the game with a strikeout.
This is Avon’s eighth appearance in the Section II tournament. They lost in the Section II finals in 2011 to Glastonbury American, 11-0 and in 2004 to Killingly, 4-2.