MIDDLETOWN — It was the most bittersweet championship celebration you may ever see.
The Stamford Senior American Legion team won its first state championship since 1957, beating West Hartford 3-0 in Game 2 of the best-of-3 series, but the celebration was tinged with hints of melancholy.
Chris Sabia, who built the Stamford Legion program into a perennial contender was not with the team as it finally reached the pinnacle of success in the state after two straight years losing in the championship series.
Sabia, the long-time general manager of Stamford American Legion, died the day before the tournament began, missing out on seeing the program he nurtured for 15 years, take home the ultimate prize.
His memory hung over every win Stamford had in the tournament as it went 10-1 over two weeks, culminating in the state championship.
It is safe to say, if Sabia was looking down on Palmer Field Saturday, he was dancing a jig watching his players and friends celebrate while those on the field wished he was there in person to celebrate.
And it was fitting, the MVP of the tournament and its top hitter was Michael Tuffano, a player who has been in the Legion program the longest of any active player, playing his third season with the seniors, and was as close to Sabia as any player.
“I’ve been on this team for three years now and we never won the championship and now I’m sitting here with four trophies to my name. It doesn’t feel real,” Tuffano said fighting back tears.
“It is not just us wearing the (Sabia) shirts, it is the fans wearing the shirts. It is a family here and it’s just unbelievable. (Sabia) was everything to this program and we know he would have gone crazy with that trophy right now. I wish I could just give him a big hug right now and say, ‘we did it!’ We did it all for him. I have been a part of some close teams before but nothing that pulled us all together to be the best we can be. It was incredible to watch.”
Tuffano had two hits and two RBI in Game 2 after posting two hits and two RBI in Game 1.
It was again the bottom of the order for Stamford coming through as Conor Nicholson delivered two doubles and a single, Ruben Rodriguez had a RBI and TJ Wainwright singled and scored a run.
Stamford struck first for the second-straight game, picking up two runs in the top of the second.
Nicholson doubled leading off the inning and Wainwright walked behind him.
Tuffano, batting ninth, ripped a double to right center, scoring both Nicholson and Wainwright with the first two runs of the game.
Stamford got another run in the second on a RBI single by Rodriguez, scoring Tim Mira who reached on a hit-by-pitch, advancing to third on Nicholson’s second double of the game.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Aaron D’Annolfo, Stamford. D’Annolfo was masterful, pitching a complete-game four hitter, striking out four, including the final batter of the game.
“(Aaron) has no fear,” Murray said. “He wanted to go in the game last night to give them a taste of what’s going to happen today. That’s his personality. The kid will run through a wall for you. He’s the type of kid you want to have the ball in the last game with all the money on the line.”
“It’s been 7 years since I started this journey with Chris when he let me take over the senior program and we have been battling ever since to get to this spot and be the No. 1 team in Connecticut,” Stamford coach Kevin Murray said. “I am filled with mixed emotion right now because I wish he was here but I am so happy we did it. We finally did it. I know Chris is here and he helped us get this state title. This was a tough two weeks for a lot of these kids because they had a great relationship with Chris. It was easy for me, I put out a lineup and these kids just fueled themselves. They played hard for Stamford and they played hard for the family.”
Along with Tuffano’s accolades, Adam Stone was named the top pitcher in the tournament. Anthony Frangiose, Tim Mira, Conor Nicholson and Aaron D’Annolfo were also named to the all-tournament team.