By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — American Legion baseball returned this season after a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the effects of the pandemic still linger, as Connecticut Legion teams prepare for a different kind of postseason.
When the CIAC entertained the idea of moving high school football to the spring and pushed the high school state baseball tournament back later in June, that caused the Legion season to start later than normal and pushed back the end of the season two weeks later than usual.
That necessitated a new playoff format. The Legion state champion won’t represent Connecticut in the Northeast Regional. Instead a new regional qualifying tournament was put in place where the top two teams in each zone as of July 22 will battle it out with the winner moving on to the Northeast Regional in Shrewsbury, Mass., beginning Aug. 3.
At the same time, the state tournament will include a 32-team field with the teams that didn’t make the qualifying tournament and those that were eliminated from the qualifying round. The winner of the state tournament will not advance to the Northeast Regional.
What that means for Naugatuck Post 17 is in spite of a recent four-game win streak, the team will play out the regular season through Aug. 1 and enter the state tournament.
To complicate matters even more — if you are not confused yet — standings were not based on overall records. They were based on the first two games played against all opponents, meaning there were games deemed out of conference that didn’t count in determining the top two teams that qualified.
As of July 22, West Hartford and Meriden held the top two spots in Zone 1 both at 11-4. They earned spots in the qualifying tournament. Bristol at 10-5 and Post 17 at 9-5 fell just short.
“We had two crucial games earlier in the month with Bristol (6-3 loss, July 10) and Meriden (2-1 loss, July 14) and that pretty much left us coming up short,” Post 17 head coach Jim Duda said.
Naugatuck’s bats have come alive during the team’s recent four-game win streak.
“Lately we have been coming around, winning four straight, and the hitting is coming through,” Duda said. “We have had several players stepping up playing out of position to fill in spots with some of our players being away and that has contributed to our success.”
Post 17 strung together three wins in three days during the streak, starting with a 10-4 win over Simsbury on July 19.
Post 17 banged out 12 hits. Jake Murphy had two hits and three RBI, and Derrick Jagello and Nick Bruno had two hits and two RBI each. Brady Evon went the distance, striking out six in seven innings to get the win on the hill.
Naugy escaped with a 4-2 win over Berlin on July 20.
Alex Sosa pitched six innings and struck out two. Bruno pitched a hitless last inning and contributed a two-run double at the plate. Matt Kilmer had two hits and Matt Stefan added a hit.
Naugy made it three wins in as many days with a 6-2 victory over Avon July 21.
The offense exploded with four runs in the first inning. Sosa drove in the first run. James Duda belted a two-run double and Andrew Tyszka had a run-scoring hit.
Jagello earned the win on the mound, allowing one run in four innings of work. Ryan Sutherland pitch one inning, allowing a run, and Bruno threw two hitless innings to close out the game.
Naugatuck has games left against Bristol, Berlin and Avon before ending the regular season July 29 at Newington.