By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — There were many questions heading into the American Legion baseball season this year.
Numerous teams across the state did not field a squad, and the teams that did were ushered into new divisions to face unfamiliar opponents. Naugatuck went from Zone 5 to Zone 1, with teams Post 17 knew little or nothing about.
Naugatuck head coach James Duda and his assistant coaches, Brian Evon and Mike D’Agnone, knew their team was among the youngest in the state and how they would respond was the biggest question heading into the season.
The season began in mid-June with a 7-2 loss to West Hartford and ended Aug. 2 with a 2-1, extra-inning loss to Middletown in the first round of the state tournament. In between, the team grew and learned to be competitive.
“If we learned anything this season, we learned to be competitive,” Duda said. “Out of the final four teams left in the state tournament, we defeated two of them during the regular season and to me that speaks volumes as to the progress this team made this season.”
Naugatuck (9-11) was down to its last three outs during the state tournament opener against Middletown at Palmer Field.
Derrick Jagello doubled to lead off the top of the seventh and later came in to score on Brady Evon’s sacrifice fly to tie the game, 1-1.
Jagello pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball before he left the game after his left knee buckled when he went to get out of Alex Sosa’s way on a sacrifice bunt.
Nick Bruno, who started in center field, came on to relieve Jagello and got a fly out to send the game to extra innings.
Middletown loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth, and Michael Garofalo’s single gave them a 2-1 walk-off win.
“We faced two pitchers that are Division I players in college and we took them to extra innings,” Duda said. “You can’t ask for a better game than that.”
Naugatuck faced injuries and absences in its lineup during the season.
“Like I have said all season long these kids are baseball players. It never mattered to them what position they played they just never wanted to leave the field,” Duda said. “We battled a lot of injuries late in the season and guys were playing out of position, but they just stepped into roles they weren’t normally use to and they competed.”
Jagello, Evon and Sosa were the top three pitchers for Post 17. Bruno, Ryan Sutherland, Ryan Tyszka and Andrew Tyszka also saw time on the mound.
Michael Deitelbaum, the starting catcher, led the team in hitting. Infielders Anthony Abate, Thomas Barry, Mike Rusin and James Duda contributed key hits throughout the season.
Justin Stone, Jake Murphy and Matt Kilmer anchored the outfield, and Matt Stefan and Peter Mullin played wherever needed.
“I think Deitelbaum is finally realizing he can be as good as he wants to be and he showed it at the plate all season,” Duda said. “Anthony (Abate) and James (Duda) only had two strikeouts all year between them all season, and you are talking 40-plus at bats, at this level that’s phenomenal.”
“We had a bunch of 15-, 16- and 17 year-olds battling against 19-year-old college players and as a team we gained a lot of confidence,” he added. “I’m hoping that will carry over into the high school season next spring.”
The Republican-American contributed to this article.