July 2, 2014 09:21PM
By Sean Krofssik
MERIDEN — The Meriden Post 45 boys have been on a roll the past few weeks reeling off six wins in a row and seven of eight, and they have done it with smiles on their faces.
Meriden manager Doug Wedge cites great chemistry as one of the main reasons for Post 45’s recent surge.
“These kids just love being together and being on the field together,” Wedge said. “They get upset if we don’t have a practice or a game. They want to practice every night. They always want to be on this field. They all get along very well together. This is one of the closest teams that I’ve had in awhile.”
On Tuesday, during a brief rain delay at Legion Field, the entire team was bonding. Many of the players were singing and dancing to the music blaring at the field. The entire squad also played a form of hot potato in a circle outside of the dugout as bolts of lightning appeared in the distance. After 15 minutes, the non-zone game against RCP Post 105 (Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Portland) was called before the first inning was completed.
“We’ve all played together since Little League so we all know each other and we all bond together because we have been together for so long,” Meriden pitcher Dmitri O’Donnell said. “We play well collectively in every facet of the game. Everything has to come together for us to win.
“Playing for this team is so much fun. The coaches are great and there are no dull moments here.”
Meriden has ridden that enthusiasm to a 13-7 record in Zone 3, is in the mix for the zone crown and is also in line for a playoff spot with eight zone contests remaining. The top four teams advance. Post 45 sits behind Middletown (14-3) and Berlin (10-4) with Cheshire nipping on their heels (12-7).
“We all just love playing baseball,” Maloney catcher Mike Gulino said. “We all love the game and take every chance to play it that we can get. I’ve been close to these guys for years and it is just so much fun playing on this team.”
It’s not just chemistry. The team can hit with a .299 team average and also has a seven-strong pitching rotation that pitches to a 2.40 ERA as a team.
“We just started hitting the ball,” Gulino said. “We have had a different mentality up at the plate. Everyone was thinking so much early in the season and one day in practice coach said not to think so much and it’s been good for us.”
Brandon Valentin (.356, 11 RBI), Tyler Logan (.353), Gulino (.348, 12 runs), Jon Walter (.343, 11 stolen bases, 6 doubles, 9 RBI), A.J. Hendrickson (.341) and Hector Gonzalez (.333, 9 stolen bases) have been offensive standouts.
Wedge said the team is strong up and down the roster.
“They are all good,” Wedge said. “I think we can play with just about anybody. I have confidence in my team. But there are good teams out there. You have to play a solid baseball game because you don’t get do-overs. You also have to have some luck on your side.”
Kyle Hartenstein said Post 45 could do something special this summer.
“We focus on playing as a team,” the second baseman said. “We are focused on winning and not on stats. The team camaraderie is great. We are always up together and having fun together. We have a lot of depth and everyone on the team is good and we can compete with any team we face.”
Gulino said the pressure isn’t the same in legion ball as it is during the school year.
“It’s less pressure,” Gulino said. “In high school you have worry about impressing your coach and you have to do good. They don’t get on us for making physical mistakes, only mental. We don’t worry about it. We just do it.”
Wedge challenged his team to go 8-0 in the final eight zone games against Berlin and Westbrook after taking seven of eight from Wallingford and Guilford.
“If we run the table at 8-0 then we will be 21-7 we will be in the state tournament,” Wedge said. “Middletown and Berlin play each other a few more times. We could slide into first or second place and get a two-game bye. That’s what we are working on.”
Meriden has been anchored on the mound this summer by Dan Berger (3-0, 1.54 ERA) and O’Donnell (3-1, 2.42).
“We need contributions from everyone to get where we want to be,” O’Donnell said. “When one of us tries to play by themselves it doesn’t work out. It’s always a team effort. That’s why we have played well so far.”
Wedge the said the one area Meriden needs to sure up is base running and that is something Post 45 is working on every day.
Meriden travels to Berlin on Saturday for a doubleheader and then host their Zone 3 rivals on Sunday for a twinbill at Legion Field. Action starts at 11 a.m. both days.