Naugatuck goes out fighting

Post 17’s run ends in Southern Division Super Regional championship

Naugatuck pitcher Nick Delucia (44) is congratulated by teammate Tristan Bosco (1) after getting out of a jam during an American Legion baseball state tournament game against Cheshire July 29 at Ceppa Field in Meriden. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

The Naugatuck Post 17 American Legion baseball team fought and grinded all season long, and it landed the team in the final four of the state tournament.

Naugatuck headed into the Southern Division Super Regional championship July 30 needing to beat Stamford twice to advance to the best-of-three state final. Stamford didn’t let it get to a second game, earning a 4-3 win and ending Naugatuck’s 2019 campaign.

“There is no doubt, they went out fighting,” Naugatuck coach Mark Nofri said. “In my eyes, they are champions. Down 4-0, they could’ve just packed up and called it a night but they kept fighting and grinding, then they made it 4-3. Summer baseball is a long stretch, but these guys found ways to win all season long. This time we just came up short.”

Naugatuck trailed right away. Stamford (27-5) scored twice in the first and added two more runs in the fifth to make it 4-0.

The rally for Post 17 (18-14) began in the sixth when Derrick Jagello led off with a walk. After Austin Verab reached on a fielder’s choice and advanced to second on an error, Nick Delucia and Mark Nofri ripped back-to-back singles to load the bases. After an RBI groundout from Mike Natkiel, Nate Deptula lined one past the right fielder that scored Delucia and Nofri to make it a 4-3 game.

The rally ended there, as the game turned. Ryan McCarthy grounded to third base, and Deptula was caught in a rundown between second and third. Stamford shortstop T.J. Wainwright eventually tagged Deptula hard to end the inning.

As Deptula fell to the ground, Wainwright stood over Deptula. Deptula jumped to his feet.

Just as the two players were being separated, the home plate umpire was quick to eject both players.

“The umpire said he wanted to end it right there before it escalated,” Nofri told the Republican-American after the game. “The (ejected players) shook hands after the game.”

Naugatuck had one last chance in the seventh inning. With two outs and Zach Bedryczuk on second, Verab just got under a pitch and drove it to center field for the third out.

Nofri went 2-for-3 with a run scored in the game. Delucia added a hit and a run scored. Deptula allowed only five hits and three walks with four strikeouts over five innings.

The Super Regional championship was the farthest Post 17 advanced in the state tournament since winning the state championship in 2001. It was also Naugatuck’s tenth game this season that was decided by one run — Naugy won the last five before last Tuesday night’s affair.

“Nobody expected us to make it this far,” Jagello told the Republican-American. “We had a lot of fun. I made a lot of new friends, and we had a real good bond. You can never count us out of a game, no matter what the score was.”

Naugatuck opened the Super Regional with a 2-0 win over Cheshire which came in with the best record in the state, July 27. After falling to Stamford, 9-5, in the double-elimination bracket, Naugy faced a rematch with Cheshire. Naugy won, 3-2, to advance to the Super Regional final.

With some of Naugatuck’s top arms out due to required rest, Post 17 turned to Delucia, who finished the year with a 2.78 ERA in 27 2/3 innings, against Cheshire. Delucia delivered another strong performance for Naugatuck, giving up one run in five innings.

Naugatuck scored all three runs in the fourth inning, thanks to RBI singles by Natkiel, Deptula, and Zach Graveline.

Naugatuck’s Zach Graveline (3) fields a ground ball during an American Legion baseball state tournament game against Cheshire July 29 at Ceppa Field in Meriden. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Cheshire fought back, scoring two in the sixth. Naugy turned to McCarthy, who had spent some of his season with the junior legion team, with the season on the line. Not only did McCarthy escape trouble in the sixth, but he ended the game with a strikeout to pick up the two-inning save.

“Nick and Ryan’s performances were outstanding,” Nofri said. “Nick competed in those five innings. He settled down after the first couple innings and started to throw strikes. Ryan just pounded the strike-zone and kept the ball low. It was a really strong performance by both.”

It was a long, hard-fought season for Post 17. Naugatuck had to battle after starting out 3-6, and stood at 7-9 16 games into the season.

Post 17, which was made up of players from Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Prospect and Seymour, ended the regular season winning five of the last eight games, including key victories over Bethel, Oakville, and Zone 5 champion, Washington.

“This team was loaded with talent, there was never a question about that,” Nofri said. “The chemistry took off at the midway point of the season. I am proud of how they fought and how they played for each other. This wasn’t Naugatuck High School. This wasn’t Woodland. This wasn’t Seymour. This was Post 17.”

Team leaders

Batting: Verab led the team in batting average (.329), while Nick Bruno led in slugging percentage (.483) and hits (28).

Pitching: Jagello led the team in ERA (1.30), while Deptula led the team in wins (5) and strikeouts (51).