BY KEN MORSE
The Naugatuck Junior American Legion team won the state championship in convincing fashion, running the table with six straight victories. What was even more impressive was they did it by throwing four shutouts.
That sent the Naugy 17U team to the Northeast Regionals in West Warwick, R.I., which were scheduled from Aug. 4-6. The format is double elimination.
The Zone 2 Junior Legion champions went into the state tournament as the No. 2 seed at 19-5 and came out of the Pod C bracket winners of the first two games. Head coach Kevin Cestari Sr., assistant coach Wilson Aviles and player/coach Anthony Didato guided the team to victory.
Naugy knocked off RCP and New Milford by identical 2-0 scores in Pod C. with Colton Hoffman and Kevin Cestari both throwing six shutout innings. That sent Post 17 into the double elimination tournament and Damon Abate opened things up, throwing the third straight shutout in a 2-0 win over Farmington.
“It was so much fun to go out there and win the state championship with my friends and teammates,” said Kevin Cestari Jr. “We had some phenomenal pitching performances. A lot of us have been playing together for a long time and we knew what we were capable of and that was our goal coming into this season.”
Naugy took it to Torrington, 12-2, on July 26 and it was Cestari, the MVP of the tournament, that led the way with a double and a home run. Joe Kovach scored twice, Abate had three hits, two runs and an RBI while Hoffman had one hit, one run and two RBIs. Colin Sanderson and Isaiah Brenes had a hit, one run and one RBI, Jordan Stanco added a hit with Jason Heyward, Brendan Cummings and Logan Stone scoring runs. Naugy had more than enough depth heading into their next game with pitcher-infielders Mason Hansen, Jack Doxsey and Jacob Baxter ready to go on the hill.
Post 17 faced their biggest test as they trailed Farmington, 6-0, in the second inning of the next game. Jose Guzman came on to put out the fire, throwing 5 2/3 inning of two-hit scoreless relief. James Crilly provided a steady bat with two hits, one run and two RBIs. Naugy scored four runs in the fourth and three more on the fifth to pull out the win.
That sent Naugy into the championship game and Cestari delivered a sterling performance of 6û innings of four-hit ball. Abate had two hits and scored two runs, but it was Guzman — two hits, including a double in the sixth to send the insurance run across the plate — that stood tallest at the plate.
“It felt so great seeing that hit come off my bat sending in the insurance run,” said Guzman, who was named the tournament’s best hitter. “The pitching in the tournament was so much better and it kept us from scoring the way we did during the season. But we just did the little things to get it done, moving the runners over, stealing bases and hitting behind the runner.”
“I knew these kids had it in them,” said Cestari Sr. “These kids worked so hard to get it done. The defense we played really backed up our pitchers and even though we didn’t score the way we did during the regular season, we were able to do what we had to in order to score and dig out a win.”
BY KEN MORSE