August 17, 2013 09:02PM
By Ken Lipshez
WALLINGFORD —Plenty of star power dots the roster of Star Auto as the baseball team formerly known as the Wallingford Downtown Merchants seeks a second consecutive Wallingford Twilight League championship.
Star Auto (19-5) will meet Executive Kia in a best-of-three set that begins today at 5 p.m. at Pat Wall Field. The second game is slated for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. with a third on tap for Wednesday, if necessary.
Star Auto won the regular season title for the fourth straight year and won playoff crowns in 2006 and 2012 with a two-game sweep of the North Haven Hurt.
Heading into this season’s finale, Manager Kevin Weir has a stable of pitchers with superior lineage.
Opening game starter Liam Ohlmann was a 20th-round selection of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2008 amateur draft and pitched professionally over five seasons after graduating from Choate and Manchester Community College.
Game two starter John Skinner was chosen in the 24th round of the 2001 draft by the Florida Marlins out of San Diego State.
Likely game three starter Sal Savo gained a spot among the career save leaders at Johnson and Wales University after a stellar scholastic career at Notre Dame-West Haven.
Ex-Sheehan High captain and two-time All-Housatonic performer Jim Cox pitched for Boston College in 2002. Weir expects to start him behind the plate.
Savo is slated to lead off and play shortstop. Weir likes to follow him with right fielder Cesar Gutierrez.
“Savo and Gutierrez at the top of the lineup can really change the game,” Weir said. “Savo really loves the game and plays very hard. They’re tied for the team lead in homers and they’re fast.”
Tim Bickford, a catcher/first baseman for the Sheehan’s 2010 state championship team, hit .351 in 48 games for the University of Bridgeport this spring after transferring from Monmouth University. Bickford is slated to hit third and play second base tonight.
“He hit seven homers in 21 games in a short-season summer college league in Myrtle Beach,” Weir said. “He’s got a lot of power to the gaps.”
Also penciled in to start are Jemal Bethea, Raymond Ruiz, Nick DeLizio, Ryan Verdi and Josue Lopez. Weir expects several key cogs to be missing, an ebb and flow that challenges a manager persistently in adult amateur leagues.
Mike Thomas is among the team’s top hitters and the embodiment of versatility.
“[Thomas and Cox] will play anywhere I ask them to,” Weir said. “Thomas pitched back-to-back games for us [in the semifinals]. They’re veteran core guys.”
Juan Batista was a 30th-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1983 and played three seasons of affiliated pro ball before logging some independent time with the Waterbury Spirit.
First baseman Ron Williams left Columbia University as its all-time hits leader in 2009 after a decorated scholastic stint at Fairfield Prep.
Ohlmann was rated among the top prospects in 2004 by displaying a fastball that touched 90 miles per hour and command of four pitches. Weir is confident when he hands him the ball.
“He’s knowledgeable. I like the way he goes about his business,” Weir said.
Ohlmann is on staff as an instructor at a prominent Fairfield County baseball school and was an assistant coach at Wesleyan University in 2011. He went to Virginia Tech before finishing at MCC.
Skinner compiled a 7-8 record with a 2.81 ERA in the Marlins’ chain, rising as high as the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs in 2002.
“You have to pry the ball out of his hands to get him off the mound,” Weir said.
Savo, who has posted a solid résumé in local competition, earned the save in the first game of the 2012 WTL finals. Cox won the second game with former Berlin High and Western Connecticut starter Brandon Lagueux notching the save.
Executive Kia (5-12 regular season) includes numerous Wallingford athletes including Mike and Steve Connors, Scott Sobkowiak and Tim Russo.
“I know their record says we probably should sweep them, but they’re a scrappy little team,” Weir said. “In the first game of the year we beat them only 2-1.”