NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck American Legion Post 17 baseball team was mathematically eliminated from contention in the pursuit of a state tournament bid Tuesday when it dropped a tough 5-2 decision to Waterbury Post 1, the Zone 5 champion.
Post 17 still has one remaining game on the schedule Thursday against Ridgefield. But the outcome won’t make a difference as Naugatuck (12-14) finished just short of the season’s goal.
“We had one of the best starts in years,” Naugatuck head coach Rob Dibble said. “Then we got hit with a few injuries and it affected our offense. In this game there just never seems to be enough pitching. When the weather causes you to play seven games in eight days you end up with games you wish you could have back.”
Pitching may have been a problem during a few stretches throughout the season, but when Post 17 needed some big performances to stay in the hunt for the postseason a couple of the younger hurlers stepped up admirably.
With Naugatuck needing to put a game into the win column Sunday at Rotary Field to keep its hopes alive, John Dean stepped on the hill and fired an eight-inning two-hitter, shutting out Danbury 1-0.
During the second half of the season Dean was lights out, and against Danbury he induced 12 ground ball outs and struck out three.
“John really gave us an outstanding performance,” Dibble said. “He didn’t have a lot of strikeouts but Danbury couldn’t get the ball out of the infield.”
Naugatuck finally scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth. Adam Tavares and Ryan White drew walks before Mike Burns executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move them to second and third. Seth Mulhall sent home Tavares on a ball that went off the pitcher for the 1-0 margin.
Post 17 needed another stellar performance on the mound when it took on Oxford in a doubleheader Monday. Tavares threw nine shutout innings in two games and Ethen Mester added three shutout innings in a sweep of the twin bill.
The first game was a continuation of a contest that began July 10. Naugatuck held a 1-0 advantage when it resumed in the bottom of the second inning. Tavares held the door shut, throwing five shutout innings as Post 17 went on to an 8-0 win.
Adam Neveski, Charles Healy and Jon Bisson scored runs in the third inning on a big two-run single from White to open up a 4-0 lead. Naugatuck upped the margin to 6-0 on RBI doubles from Tavares and Bisson in the fourth.
Burns singled in the fifth and Chris Anderson drew a walk. Both runners scored on a double from Neveski to account for the 8-0 win.
Tavares went out and took the hill in the second game and threw four more zeroes before Mester came on to complete the 2-0 shutout, going the final three innings on the hill.
Neveski singled and scored on a run-scoring single from Dean to Post 17 on the board in the fourth. Naugatuck tacked on the only other run when Bisson unloaded a triple and scored on a double from Mester.
“We needed a few more wins under our belt going down the stretch but we just came up short,” Dibble said. “I give the kids a lot of credit. They came in here and worked hard this season and gave it everything they had. We are going to be missing quite a few players due to eligibility next year and they gave us four good years at Post 17. They will be missed.”
Playing out their eligibility this season are Nolan Kinne, Mulhall, Burns, Neveski, Healy, Bisson, White, Kyle Lopes and Karl Johansen.
“We have some spots to fill next season and I’m excited about what we have on the junior level,” Dibble said. “They won the zone and have a ton of talent ready to step up next season.”