MERIDEN — The sun shone down on Legion Field and the conditions were perfect for baseball on Sunday afternoon as the American Legion state tournament opened for Meriden’s Post 45 at home against East Haven’s Post 89.
In a do-or-die situation, Meriden’s Carson Coon got the starting nod and rose to the occasion, out-dueling East Haven’s Gabe Longley 1-0 with the help of a defensive gem from Jeff Morales in center field and close-out relief from Jack Rich.
Both starting pitchers allowed just three hits. Meriden, making capital use of the sacrifice, parlayed one of its three safeties into the lone run of the game in the second inning.
The climax of the contest came in the top of the sixth when East Haven had runners on the corners with one out. Frank Longley hit a fly ball to center field which looked certain to score the tying run, but Morales made the catch and threw a laser beam home to catcher Brandon Hernandez to gun down Jack Zimmerman at the plate to end the inning.
“This was his first game in center field all year,” Meriden manager Doug Wedge said of Morales. “He’s very athletic and very fast. What I liked so much was that while the ball was up he stayed back so that he’d get momentum going into the throw. He laid out a nice beautiful throw and the catcher was right and it was just a nice play.”
With Sunday’s win, Meriden (24-5) advances to the third round to face Zone 3 rival Cheshire (23-5) in a best-of-three series in Cheshire. Game 1 is Tuesday night at 5:30. Game 2 is Wednesday at 3 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, follows immediately after.
Against East Haven, Meriden got a six and one-thirds solid innings from Coon, who struck out four.
“Carson Coon pitched a fantastic ball game,” said Wedge. “He pitched around the zone and let them put the ball in play and let our defense go to work.”
Coon got the lone run he’d need in the bottom of the second. Jeff Massicotte drove a leadoff single to right.
The next batter, Zackary Golebiewski, laid down a sacrifice bunt. East Haven’s third baseman bobbled the ball, allowing Golebiewski to reach.
Coon followed with another bunt to move the two runners over. That set up James Pellegrino, who delivered a sacrifice fly to drive in the game’s only run.
After that inning, East Haven’s Longley cruised through the Meriden lineup. Longley didn’t throw very hard, striking out just one, but was very effective with his command, inducing what seemed like a ground ball or a weak pop fly from almost every hitter.
Coon was also cruising. East Haven had trouble stringing anything together off him. And when Post 89 (13-11) did, Morales was there to make the key play and Rich was there to get the final two outs.
“I knew I had my fielders behind me,” said Coon. “If I got behind in the count I knew I could throw it over the middle and let them field.”