Connecticut’s American Legion baseball state tournament opens today. All four area teams are in the hunt, with Wallingford back after a prolonged absence and Cheshire, Meriden and Southington each making a return visit while playing their best ball of the year.
Cheshire just won Zone 3 for the third straight year. Enough said. The reward is a double-bye that advances Post 92 (19-7) directly to the South Division quarterfinals and a best-of-three series that opens Thursday.
Southington (Zone 1) and Meriden (Zone 3) finished third in their respective divisions, but each goes into the postseason riding seven-game winning streaks. Each will be at home for the first round this afternoon starting at 1 p.m:
-Southington (16-8), last year’s state runner-up, faces South Windsor (15-9), the fourth-place team from Zone 8, at Southington High School.
-Meriden (23-9 overall, 20-8 Zone 3) hosts Norwalk (16-11) at Legion Field. Norwalk, fifth this year in Zone 4, is the team that sent Post 45 packing in the second round last year.
Wallingford, meanwhile, hits the road for Bethel High School. Wallingford qualified at 14-14, fifth in Zone 3. Bethel (21-6) was the Zone 5 runner-up.
Wallingford will be the decided underdog. Coach Mike Thomann’s team was 11-3 at home at Pat Wall Field, but just 3-11 on the road.
Bethel was a spotless 13-0 at home.
Meriden was also strong at home, going 11-3 at Legion Field. Post 45, however, goes into the postseason without benefit of any rest, having played a doubleheader Saturday at Westbrook.
Then again, given how well coach Doug Wedge’s squad has been playing, maybe a day off would be detrimental. It was only percentage points, after all, that separated Meriden (.714) from Cheshire and Middletown (both .731) in the Zone 3 standings.
Against Westbrook on Saturday, Meriden swept 7-6 and 8-1. To save arms, Wedge used three pitchers in each game.
The opener was the most dramatic, as Meriden rallied from an early 6-0 deficit. Reliever Cam Fahey (2-1) kept Westbrook quiet after the second inning while Post 45 chipped away.
Kyle Hartenstein and Dmitri O’Donnell hit back-to-back doubles to plate a run in the fourth.
In the next frame, Hector Gonzalez doubled, advanced on an error and scored on a wild pitch.
A two-out error opened the door to two more Meriden runs in the sixth, as Jon Walter and Gonzalez delivered RBI singles.
Still down 6-4 going into the seventh, Post 45 surged ahead by parlaying two walks, a double steal and third stolen base into three runs. O’Donnell roped an RBI single. Joe Kane’s squeeze bunt wound up going for a hit to tie the game. A two-out infield single by Gonzalez plated the game-winner.
In the nightcap, Tevin Robles (4-2) pitched four innings of four-hit, one-run ball to earn the win.
After spotting Westbrook a 1-0 lead after two, Meriden exploded for six runs in the third. Mike Gulino and Dan Berger each knocked in two runs. Kyle Pelcher and Robles drove home one each.
Evan Golebiewski provided the exclamation point with a two-run double to deep left-center.