By Jim Bransfield
MIDDLETOWN >> Middletown Post 75 opens its third season Thursday, taking on Essex (Vt.) in the Northeast Regional American Legion tournament at Palmer Field.
The Post 75ers were 20-8 in the Zone 3 season, finishing in a tie with eventual state champion Cheshire and Meriden. But the tiebreaker went to Cheshire, who took three-of-four from Middletown in the final season series.
After an 8-3 Cheshire win in game one of a twi-night doubleheader, Cheshire won the nightcap 8-5 in 10 innings before Middletown won 3-1 behind Luke Sorenson in game three.
But Jon Koski outdueled Griffin Bremer, 1-0, to win the zone deciding game on the last day of the regular season.
In the second season, Middletown (30-15) went 3-2 in the state postseason, beating New Haven, 5-4, and Westport, 6-0, before losing a best-of-three with Stamford.
The 75ers lost the first game, 3-2, won the second 12-9, then lost the finale 5-4.
Now comes season No. 3.
“I think we’ll be ready to go,” said Middletown coach Tim D’Aquila. “We’ve been fine-tuning some things and getting a lot of time with metal bats (Connecticut uses wood bats all season, but the regionals and world series use metal). It takes a while to get adjusted to metal bats, both offensively and defensively. The ball goes faster and further with metal than it does with wood.
“We took some time off to let some injuries heal, but the kids want to play.”
D’Aquila said that catcher/pitcher Chris Cardi will play in the regional. He was injured in a zone game at East Haddam and missed the bulk of the season and the state playoffs. Cardi was 4-1 with an earned run average of 3.05 and was the team’s No. 1 catcher. He was hitting .302 when he was hurt.
“The bad news is Bill Waldner [the team’s catcher during Cardi’s absence] is hurt,” said D’Aquila. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to play because of his injury [wrist] With Cardi, he’s obviously rusty, but we’re working to get him back into baseball shape.”
Nick DeShais has seen considerable action at catcher and has played well.
Essex (24-9) has been to three regionals in the last five years, although it did not qualify last season for the regional in Middletown.
Post 91 is led by Josh Baez (.431, 21 RBI), Hayden Smith (.364), Davis Mikell (.347, 25 RBI), Deagan Poland (.347, 20 RBI), Joey Robertson (.341, 14 RBI) and Jacob Gaboriault (.333, 13 RBI).
Mikell (5-1, 0.71), Jacob Benson (7-2, 1.40) and Noah Baez (4-2, 2.27) are the team’s top pitchers in terms of innings pitched.
A year ago Middletown performed well in the regional, going 2-2, losing a 6-5 decision to eventual champion Branford. The Post 75ers have been to three regional finals and lost them all.
In 1965 Middletown lost to Berlin, N.H. 8-5, in 1970 lost to Manchester, N.H., 2-1, and in 1995 lost to Portland, Me. 3-1. In both 1970 and 1995, Middletown got to the final as host team.
In 1970 and 1995, Middletown matched up with the Connecticut state champion and both times knocked the champ – Naugatuck in 1970 and West Haven in 1995 – out of the regional.
Middletown won state titles in 1965, 1968, 1979 and 1982.
Middletown comes in with a team batting average of .340. The club’s leading hitters are Will Woods (.467, 35 RBI), Jared Pflaumer (.437, 40 RBI), Jordan Swilling (.370, 33 RBI), Laurence Hill (.356, 28 RBI), John Mormile (.333, 26 RBI), Nick Roy (.308, 17 RBI) and Malcolm Alleyne (.306, 22 RBI).
The team’s leading pitchers are Mike McShane (9-0, 1.06), Mormile (6-1, 1.93), Scott Marks, 5-3, 1.17) and Luke Sorenson (2-4, 2.81). D’Aquila was undecided as to his Game 1 starter as of Tuesday.
Bremer, who was projected as the team’s ace until an arm injury sidelined him for much of the season, is 0-2. He lost to Cheshire, 1-0, in the season finale, and to Stamford, 5-4, in the state tourney. His ERA is 1.40, which indicates he has pitched much better than his record.
Bremer has also seen considerable late-season outfield action and is hitting .291.
In game one at 9:35 a.m. on Thursday, Milford, Mass. (25-9) plays Collette Vacations of Central Falls, R.I. (29-12-1). That will be followed by RCP (24-7) vs. Dover, N.H. (18-5).
In the 4:30 p.m. doubleheader, Cheshire (27-10) takes on the Bangor Comrades (23-5) and that will be followed by the Essex/Middletown game.
Prior to the Middletown/Essex game, all eight teams will be on the field for the official opening. The Post 75 Color Guard will present the colors and there will be a ceremonial first pitch.
The winner of the regional joins the other seven regional winners at the Legion World Series in Shelby, North Carolina.