NAUGATUCK — The last day of the American Legion baseball sectional tournament was a roller-coaster ride for the Naugatuck Post 17 senior team.
It took two games and more than 14 innings for Naugatuck to defeat Trumbull on Thursday and advance to the state Super Regional for the second straight year.
“I am emotionally drained,” Naugatuck coach Jon Jagello said. “In game one, we didn’t come up with the big hit and couldn’t plate a run. But the players didn’t seem too rattled after the game one loss. It is nice to have three aces on a pitching staff.”
Naugatuck is scheduled to open play in the Meriden Super Regional against Cheshire at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Ceppa Field in Meriden. The Super Regional is the same four-team double elimination format as the first round. Naugy is the fourth seed and will compete against the teams with the top-three records in the state: Cheshire, Stamford and Hamden.
Naugatuck had the upper-hand Thursday as the winner’s bracket champion of the four-team double elimination pod, as Trumbull had to beat Post 17 twice to advance. But after dropping game one and falling behind in game two, it seemed like Naugatuck’s chance of advancing was slipping away.
Post 17 headed into the sixth inning of game two down 3-2. Zach Graveline hit an RBI single to tie the game, and it was still 3-3 heading into extras. In the eighth inning, after Graveline stole second, Nick Bruno drove in Graveline and Mike Natkiel on a single to left for a 5-3 lead. A Justin Marks RBI groundout added one more run to give Naugatuck a 6-3 lead.
“I was just trying to get a pitch over the plate and was able to stay back and drove it,” Bruno told the Republican-American. “I knew the ball would get through the hole. I realized I did my job, but knew that I had to keep running hard.”
Graveline relieved starting pitcher Zach Bedryczuk in the bottom of the inning and recorded the two-out save to secure Naugy’s spot in the state quarterfinals.
“Graveline has been an asset for this team,” Jagello said. “He always keeps his emotions in check and has proven to be the veteran leader of the team. Bedryczuk is also an amazing competitor. He has a great mindset on the mound. He gave up ten hits but was able to battle out of several jams and pitched into the eighth inning.”
Bedryczuk allowed three runs — two of them earned — and struck out six in 7 1/3 innings. At the plate, Bruno drove in three runs, while Natkiel and Austin Verab had two hits each.
“I knew that Zack (Graveline) would finish the job,” Bedryczuk told the Republican-American. “Throughout the game, I just had to bear down and help the team. I had to keep fighting and battling. We all did.”
Post 17 lost an early lead in game one, as Trumbull battled back to take the game 6-3. Post 17 went with their ace, Nate Deptula, who has a 1.72 ERA combined over the last two seasons.
Naugy got on the board right away with two runs in the first and held a 3-1 lead heading into the sixth. Trumbull recorded seven hits and five runs over the final two innings to earn the win. It was the first time this season that Deptula gave up more than two runs to a team and just the second time he allowed more than five hits.
Regardless, Naugatuck needed just one win against Trumbull. Post 17 put itself in that position thanks to dominant pitching in the first two games of the tournament, which Naugatuck won both 4-0.
Naugatuck opened the tournament July 20 against Wallingford. Deptula pitched seven shutout innings with six strikeouts to set up a game against Trumbull July 21 to determine who advanced to the pod championship unblemished.
Derrick Jagello, who has a combined 1.01 ERA over his last two seasons with the team, delivered again, allowing just two hits and one walk over seven shutout innings in the win over Trumbull.
“Pitching and defense is this team’s strength,” Jagello said. “By starting the tournament off with two complete game shutout victories by Nate and Derrick was huge. They both had dominating performances.”
Verab was a key player in that two-game stretch, going 4-for-6 with three RBI. Mark Nofri also drove in three runs over that span.
“I am just impressed at how this team has bonded together down the stretch,” Jagello said. “It is obvious that pitching and defense is our strength. Couple that with a team that plays as one, can only result in success and they did that tonight (against Trumbull).”