BRISTOL, August 2 – In their final two games of the season, the Avon American Legion baseball team scored just one run and had eight hits. Post 201 was disappointed when they were finally eliminated from Connecticut’s 2012 American Legion state tournament.
But when you look at the big picture, the season was a tremendous success for Avon.
In June, coach Brian Doyle was just hoping to get enough players to field a team. And after a few practices, he was hoping to scrap together 15 victories and earn a berth in the state tournament.
Avon exceeded all of its expectations this summer, earning a state tournament berth for the third straight year and playing the final 16, double-elimination round of the state tournament for the second year in a row.
There, Avon displayed a talent for comebacks. Avon (24-10) won five state tournament games. In four of the five games, Avon had to rally from a deficit. Post 201 erased a three-run deficit in the top of the ninth inning to tie Middletown and eventually won in the 12th inning. Avon erased a four-run deficit to beat Oakville and trailed Montville and Orange by one run before winning.
Avon was two victories away from playing for the state championship but the dream ended in a 3-0 loss to RCP, a team of players from Rocky Hill, Cromwell and Portland.
“Every player, every team has a ceiling of how good they can be,” Doyle said. “As coaches, we try to get our players and teams as close as we can to that ceiling. We’re at the ceiling. This team played as good as it could. We achieved our potential.”
RCP (23-6) took advantage of the first error that Avon has made in its tournament games in Bristol. After Dan Bouchard’s one-out single in the first inning, Avon pitcher Matt Koenig tried to throw over to first base but he overthrew first baseman George Nurisso and Bouchard raced to third base. He scored on a RBI double from Pat Sirois, the hottest hitter in the tournament, who was hitting .500 after the game.
In the second inning, RCP rallied with two outs. Kevin Post singled and moved to third on Christian Budzik’s double. Alex Fulco’s two-RBI double gave RCP a 3-0 lead.
That was more than enough for RCP’s B.J. McNaughton, who went the distance, allowing just two hits. His defense made several great plays behind him. “He’s a gamer,” RCP coach Jay Hickey said. “He stays focused and throws strikes. As long as we play good defense, we’re in good shape.”
Avon had just two runners reach second base in the first and eighth innings. They never got any closer to scoring.
RCP beat Greenwich a few hours later to earn a berth in the championship game against Milford on Friday. The two teams that beat Avon will play for the state title.
Avon was a team built on good pitching and solid defense. Left-hander Michael Castellani was the best pure pitcher on the team and Doyle used him to secure victories. In the state tournament, he pitched in 10 innings over three games, earning two wins and a save.
“We had a lot of position players who could pitch and throw strikes,” Castellani said. “When I came in, I give them a different look. I throw a bit harder and I am able to keep them off balance.”
In a 6-4 win over Oakville, Castellani pitched over three innings of relief, scattering three this and striking out four. Two days later, he pitched four innings of relief allowing just two hits and fanning three in a 4-1 win over Orange. The next day, he pitched 2.1 innings to earn the win in a 2-1 decision over Montville.
“I didn’t get a lot of pressure situations to pitch in during high school (Avon Old Farms),” he said. “My goal was to pitch in some pressure situations.”
Noah Hahn pitched 11 innings in the five tournament games in Bristol and had an earned run average of 0.82. In the loss against RCP, he came on in relief and retired 18 straight batters in a row to give Avon a chance to rally.
And that was the key in the state tournament. Pitchers kept Avon in the game. Hahn gave up just one run and three hits over five innings in the win over Orange before yielding to Castellani. Against Oakville, Matt Koenig didn’t allow a run in four innings giving Avon a chance to climb back into the game.
“As a pitcher, it gives you something to throw for,” Castellani said. “You know the comeback is coming. You want to do your best to keep them in the game until it arrives.”
Against Oakville, Cody Doyle had a RBI double and RBI single while Hahn had a pair of RBI singles to help spark Avon.
Orange had ace pitcher Michael Concato on the mound. In six innings, he allowed just one run, three hits and struck out 10 Avon batters. But Avon hitters fought off pitches and boosted his pitch count, driving him out of the game after six innings.
Jake Bryant’s two-out double in the sixth off Concato tied the game at 1-1. In the seventh, Avon seized control. Two batters were hit by a pitch and Avon scored three runs on a ground ball out, a Koenig double and a wild pitch.
“When we go down, we switch into an another gear,” Castellani said. “We get key at-bats. Every kid when they get their chance, they make the most of it. They might only get one shot at it.”
Montville broke up a scoreless duel in the seventh inning by scoring a run off Castellani, thanks to two hits, a hit batter and a sacrifice fly.
But Avon didn’t flinch. In the eighth, they loaded the bases with no outs thanks to a walk and a pair of singles. Koenig ripped a hard shot to shortstop that was caught and pinch runner Matt Williamson was picked off third. But the next batter, Cody Doyle, drove in two runs with a double for the 2-1 lead.
Koenig retired six consecutive batters in the eighth and ninth innings to get the save and help Avon earn the victory.
Avon dropped a 4-0 decision to Milford, despite six hits and leaving 10 men on base, including the bases loaded in the ninth inning. Against RCP, pitcher B.J. McNaughton allowed just two hits as the RCP defense was outstanding in a 3-0 decision that ended Avon’s season.
“Our kids totally bought into this,” Brian Doyle said. “For them, baseball was the most important thing they did this summer. We had optional practices and they were all there.”
RCP 3, Avon 0
Avon (24-10) 000 000 000 — 0-2-2
RCP (23-6) 120 000 00X – 3-5-1
Matt Koenig, Noah Hahn (3) and Cody Doyle; B.J. McNaughton and Kevin Radzeiwicz; WP: McNaughton (7-0); LP: Koenig; 2B: Pat Sirois (R), Christian Budzik (R), Alex Fulco (R); LOB: Avon 5, RCP 2
Saturday, July 28