BEACON FALLS — A predominantly young group of players will make up this year’s Prospect-Beacon Falls American Legion Posts 194-25 baseball squad.
The team, under new head coach Don Ensero, Sr., and assistant coach Jeff Clarke, includes just one player who saw significant playing time with the Woodland varsity unit this spring.
Connor Chura, a pitcher and utility player for the Hawks, returns as the veteran of the program. He and Nathan Clarke are the only two returners from last summer’s PBF squad.
“We’re a very young team,” said Jeff Clarke, who also acts as the program’s general manager. “I’m not looking at wins and losses; that’s not our goal here. Our goal is to make them better ballplayers and to strive to get better.”
Chura and Nathan Clarke will make up part of the six-pitcher staff. Joining them are Dylan Cummings, Matt Wysocki, Matt Spofford, and Sam Merriman, who all contributed innings to this year’s successful Woodland freshman team.
The rest of the team includes Robert Stach, Steve Kazalunas, Ryan Flanagan, Kyle Soisson, and Kevin Gabianelli, who will all be able to play multiple positions.
Jeff Clarke said the small, young team is conducive to more work on fundamentals in practice.
“We’re going to work on mechanics and the mental part of the game,” Clarke said. “They need to know what to do and where to go. They’re pretty young, mostly freshman and JV players. We still have to teach them the game so they’ll be able to help us and the varsity program in the future.”
The team will compete in Zone 5 with the likes of Naugatuck, Oakville, Oxford, Bethel, New Milford, and Waterbury, all of which usually have strong, veteran-laden programs.
“They’re going to see what it takes to win,” Clarke said. “They’ll see exceptional play from some of these teams. We’re going to have to get better on a game-by-game basis. I hope by the end of the year we’re a lot better than we are now.”
Most of Woodland’s other varsity players decided to play with other summer travel teams or take the summer off to focus on football preparation. Clarke said he supports each player’s decision.
“I truly would have loved to have some of the Woodland varsity kids to play for us, but I wish them all the best,” Clarke said. “I want the best for all the kids. I’ll help any kid I can that I’ve ever coached to become better.”
This will also be the first Prospect-Beacon Falls Legion season without Jim Augelli or Larry Renna on staff. Both retired from the program after coaching since its first season in 2006. This year’s staff includes Ryan Matthews, Don Ensero, Jr., and Zach Ensero.
Clarke hopes the season, which begins Sunday at 11 a.m. at Woodland with a game against Bethel, helps the team gain experience and skills to build on for upcoming seasons.
“It’s going to be a learning year for the kids,” Clarke said. “Next year we’re going to be more experienced, and when they turn 17 and 18, we’re going to be able to challenge for upper spots in the zone.”