Young coaches lead junior legion to fast start

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Naugatuck Junior American Legion Post 17 assistant coach Matt D’Agnone (23) and head coach Zac Dreher (43) have the baseball team off to a hot, 7-1 start. The coaching pair once starred together in the infield for Naugatuck High School and returned to Naugatuck this summer to help lead the next generation of borough baseball players. –KEN MORSE
Naugatuck Junior American Legion Post 17 assistant coach Matt D’Agnone (23) and head coach Zac Dreher (43) have the baseball team off to a hot, 7-1 start. The coaching pair once starred together in the infield for Naugatuck High School and returned to Naugatuck this summer to help lead the next generation of borough baseball players. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Junior American Legion Post 17 baseball team is off and running this season with a 7-1 start. More surprising, though, is how Naugy has accomplished this feat.

Led by a pair of young coaches, Post 17 outscored its opposition over the first six games by a knee-buckling 42-0 margin — that’s right, six shutouts by a strong pitching staff.

Naugatuck has established itself as the team to beat in Zone 5 with head coach Zac Dreher and assistant coach Matt D’Agnone at the helm. The double ‘D’ coaching staff once stood side by side in the Greyhounds infield back in 2010 with Zac taking up shortstop and Matt completing the double play combination at second base.

Dreher and D’Agnone also played for Post 17. Coming back to coach the junior team was a dream come true for the longtime friends and teammates.

“The younger players relate to both of the coaches because they have come through the same program,” Post 17 senior head coach Rob Dibble said. “The experience they have gained is rubbing off on the younger kids, and as you can see by the results it’s been a very successful transition.”

Dreher’s baseball career took him to Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., and in 2013 the junior catcher earned a New England Collegiate Conference Player of the Week honor after batting .375 with six runs and six RBI.

The two-time All-Naugatuck Valley League Second Team catcher and shortstop earned All-NECC Honorable Mention in his junior year after leading his team to the semifinals of the NCAA Division III tournament, the Blazers’ most successful season under head coach Nathan Bashaw.

“I came into this season working on an internship for school,” said Dreher, who is pursuing a degree in mathematics and secondary education as the first Frank Johnson Scholarship winner. “One of my professors will be down this summer to assess my progress and I’m looking to get the most out of this opportunity. It is an honor to come back here and coach at this level after being the first Frank Johnson scholarship award winner.”

So far, he’s getting the most out of his team. Naugatuck won its fifth and sixth games Saturday with a doubleheader sweep of Monroe. Spencer Dreher hurled a no-hitter in a 3-0 game 1 win, pushing him to 3-0 with 26 strikeouts in 18 innings. Ricky Plasky fired a three-hit shutout in a 11-0 game 2 win.

“The success of the team so far is not surprising,” Zac Dreher said. “A lot of them could be up playing with the senior team. Matt and I have the experience to show these young kids what it takes to go to the next level because we have seen it all before.”

The young coaches have made sure to keep the success from getting into the players’ heads.

“We are just trying to keep them focused,” D’Agnone said. “We are stressing throwing strikes for our pitchers and to get solid contact at the plate. So far it has worked in our favor.”

Plasky powered the offense Saturday in game 1, belting a triple with two runs scored. Kyle Pyshna had three hits and an RBI while Jason Bradley, Evan Pelliccia and Kevin Mariano all had RBI knocks.

Keith Daisey paced the offense in game 2 with two hits and two RBI. Colin Leary scored two runs, Kyle Plasky and Josh Aviles each added an RBI and Adam Taveras drove in two runs to complete the Post 17 onslaught.

“I’m trying to instill in the team at what it takes to play at the next level,” Dreher said. “Bradley and Corey Plasky are gaining experience behind the plate and I feel my experience on the college level will begin to mold them for the future.”

Matt Whitney and Ethen Mester have been instrumental in the fast start by Post 17, demonstrating fielding as well as plate accomplishments.

“To come back and give back to the program has been a great experience for Matt and me,” Dreher said. “The team is thriving with the experience we have to give and we are just taking it one game at a time.”

Naugatuck dropped its first game Tuesday in a 9-7 defeat to Oxford. Post 17 bounced back to defeat Oxford on Thursday, 7-1. Post 17 is playing a doubleheader Saturday at Bethel beginning at 6 p.m.