AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL: Postseason return, plus 17U success, has Wallingford looking solid

AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL: Postseason return, plus 17U success, has Wallingford looking solid

WALLINGFORD — Despite Wallingford Post 187’s season-ending 3-2 loss in 11 innings Wednesday night at Trumbull, the team’s future is bright.

The Senior Legion will have 11 players eligible to come back, though they do say goodbye to seven players: Russell Edeen, Pat Christensen, Caden Cloutier, Vinny Verlezza, Sebastian Sanchez, Tyler Lyons and Braydon Lyons.

Post 187 coach John Amendola said Thursday that each player gave his all to the program and he was happy to see each player’s progression. Edeen is a good case in point. The first baseman led the team with a .350 batting average and 25 RBI. On Wednesday, in Pod H semifinal against Trumbull, Edeen drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth inning.

“I was so happy with the focus and effort he had this year; it was amazing,” Amendola said. “It really seemed to me that he enjoyed playing baseball this summer. He really, really did.”

After Wallingford missed out on the American Legion state tournament last season with a 14-14 record, Amendola had a couple of goals heading into this season: make the playoffs and, once there, win a game. Both were accomplished.

“I liked our fight. We really never gave up,” Amendola said. “There was maybe one night against Branford where we weren’t really there, but I saw a lot of focus all year. The team was always working hard and not quitting.”

With Cloutier and Braydon Lyons and their combined 10 wins leaving the pitching staff, Wallingford will look for young pitchers to step up. Amendola said the 17U program has several pitchers who will be able to fill in, including Nick Velardi, Hunter Geisler, Nathaniel Emerton and David Hunter.

On the offensive side, Amendola said he anticipates Mark Grasso and Aidan Weir to provide some punch to coincide with versatility.

There is reason to be optimistic about the talent moving up the ladder. Wallingford’s 17U program dominated this year, finishing the regular season with a 23-4 record, and opened its state tournament on Thursday night.

“I really expect those guys to come up here and perform next year,” Amendola said. “I think that they will look good going forward.”

As far as players who were on 19U Senior team this year whom Amendola expects to see make a leap next season are the Romano twins, Anthony and Joe. This year, they served as pinch-runners, for the most part. Amendola anticipates Anthony playing first base and Joe playing center field next summer.

“Anthony is a very vocal kid who keeps the team up. He is always an upbeat guy keeping you focused and into the game,” Amendola said. “I see Joe as more of a quiet type. He’s not as vocal as Anthony. He runs the bases very well — both do — but I think Joe is a faster runner. They both run well and are usually smart baserunners.

“They get the bat on the ball, not a lot of strikeouts in them,” Amendola added. “I think when you put the ball in play, good things happen.”

Anthony and Joe Romano are multi-sport athletes. The twins, who attend Sheehan, competed against their future Post 187 teammate Weir when Sheehan and the Lyman Hall Co-op collided in the state Division III ice hockey championship in March, creating a fun rivalry between the three players.

Amendola said Post 187 will continue to improve its defense with Joe Amarone and Justin Hackett nailing down the left side of the infield. But he said the team must improve its ability to bring in runners with less than two outs.

That’s crucial in the wood-bat world of American Legion baseball, where it’s hard to hit home runs and slug balls over the heads of outfielders. Amendola said he wants to see his team move runners, bunt and play more fundamentally sound depending on each situation.

Hackett, Post 187’s starting third baseman at age 14, is one of those players who has an understanding of the fundamentals. That was evident in the bottom of the seventh inning during Wednesday night’s playoff game in Trumbull. 

“On the play where they tied the game, the center fielder threw the ball over his head at third base,” Amendola recounted. “There was no backup and there is a long way to go to the fence. He ran after it and threw the kid out at home that would have won the game.

”To get there and make that play, he has that baseball sense in him.”

With the solid core of returning players and the incoming players from the 17U program, Wallingford’s Legion baseball horizon is glimmering, and Amendola couldn’t be more excited.

“The bulk of this team is coming back,” Amendola said. “We have a good group coming in next year with the 17U team and the future looks bright for the Wallingford Legion program.”