Zone 4 in Senior American Legion baseball has been considered one of the toughest zones to play in for the last decade.
Each season, teams battle it out for the coveted No. 1 position and a bye in the state tournament. Any team that makes states out of Zone 4 does so having been routinely tested by top teams.
Until last season, all the regular-season success did not translate into trophies at the state level.
When Stamford won the state championship last summer, it marked the first state title for the zone since Norwalk won it all in 2011.
Prior to that, Zone 4’s last state championship came in 1998 when Trumbull took the prize.
In fact, Bridgeport (9), Trumbull (6), Stamford (6) and Norwalk (1) are the only teams from Zone 4 to ever win a state championship and advance to the northeast Regionals.
Bridgeport won 9-straight titles from 1929 to 1937 and Stamford’s last championship before last season came in 1957.
Stamford, Greenwich and Trumbull all reached the state Super Regional last season, with Stamford and Trumbull both being among the final four teams left standing.
This year, Stamford is back as a serious contender for the state crown with several other Zone 4 teams ready to make some noise, as well.
Post 3 lost just three players from its championship squad and has its eyes set on not just winning the states, but going a step further and winning the Northeast Regional and getting a shot to play for a national championship in Shelby, N.C.
The lineup is stacked and should hit, but it is the depth of the pitching staff that will carry Stamford.
An arsenal of pitchers, including Aaron D’Annolfo, John MacDonald, Adam Stone, Leo Socci, Grant Purpura, Blake Newcomer, Bobby Cribbins, Michael Newman, Chris Candito and Hunter Semmel will all see time on the mound this season in starting and relief roles.
Stamford will be aiming to win the zone this season after finishing third last year and having to fight through two single-elimination games prior to the Regionals.
“Norwalk has some really good guys, Trumbull is going to be there and will compete for the zone,” Stamford coach Kevin Murray said. “Greenwich is young, but they are always well coached. Westport picked up a few kids and Ridgefield is improved. We finished third last year and had to play every round. That’s not the best way to do it.”
Despite having many high-quality teams over the years, Greenwich has never won the Senior Legion state championship.
Greenwich put together one of its best seasons in program history last season, going 23-2 in the regular season and winning Zone 4.
That gave Greenwich a bye to the regionals in a best 2-out-fo-3 series where it swept Middletown, advancing to the Super Regionals.
There, Greenwich was bounced after two games.
It was an abrupt halt to a successful season.
They return only three players from last season’s squad in C/1B Kyle Woodring; P/OF Mark Sunoo and 2B Hayden Kistler, meaning there are questions at some positions, including on the mound.
SS Aaron Schur and P Ian Colalucci are also expected to help Greenwich this season.
“Stamford, Trumbull and Norwalk are all very strong teams. Westport has a good team, with several key, returning 19-year-olds,” Greenwich coach Mike Abate said. “When you win the zone, which we did last year, everybody is gunning for you. We are going to get everyone’s best effort each game, which is what we want.”
Had it not been for Stamford’s incredible run last summer, it would have been Trumbull representing Zone 4 and playing for a state championship.
Trumbull has finished second in Zone 4 the last two seasons going 22-4 last year and 23-4 the season prior.
Since 2005, Trumbull is the only team from the zone to finish in the top 3 every season
This season, they bring back talented players and coach Jack McFarland believes the team will once again be in the mix for the zone and state championships.
SS Jack Lynch, 1B Vin DeRubeis, P Andrew Lojko P, 2B Dustin Siqueira and P Dan Ruchalski all return for Trumbull.
Also taking the mound for Trumbull this summer is Trumbull High’s CHSCA Class LL All-State pitcher, Ben Fero, who gives the team a legitimate ace on the top of the rotation.
The plan for the Norwalk team is clear.
“We want to make the playoffs and kind of let everybody know Norwalk Legion is back,” Post 12 coach Matt Harbilas told GametimeCT.
Norwalk picked up some high-quality payers from the AAU circuit, including catcher Marco Monteiro.
“It’s huge having them come back,” Harbilas said. “I’m very lucky to have them. I think they’re really excited to play an entire summer with the name Norwalk across their chest again. A lot of them are players who have a lot of pride.”
Isaac Keehn will anchor a pitching staff which can run seven deep.
Tommy Benincaso, Max Pomponi and Frankie Greco will comprise the starting rotation with Scott Whalen also slated to see important innings on the mound.
Westport is another team benefitting from payers returning home to play after making the rounds on other travel teams.
Catcher Matt Stone, who will be playing at Georgetown, Boston-College bound CF Chris Drbal, P/IF Harry Azadian, who will be one of Staples’ captains next season, P Alex Cheema who is off to UMass and P Alec Burns (NYU) will form a solid core of the team.
The team is deep with pitching and sports a stout defense but whether the team can hit enough will be the key to their success in Zone 4.
Wilton has been in the middle of the pack for a long time in Zone 4 and would love to move into the top 3.
“Zone 4 is always a good One to play in. It’s very competitive,” Wilton coach Ian Thoesen said.
Ryan Gabrielle will be the No. 1 pitcher and play RF; Collin Kahal, who plays at Washington University, is playing SS; Middlebury’s Henry Strmecki will man CF while Cole Judelson and Jack DiNanno share the catching duties.
Ridgefield was 1-25 last season and 4-22 the year before.
To say it has been a rough few years is an understatement.
With the addition of Ridgefield High ace Alex Price, arguably one of the top five pitchers in the state this past season, Ridgefield should win a few more games this season and may even compete for a playoff spot.
Along with Price, 1B Nick Cullinan, C Ben Cohen and Thomas Gioffre, all played in the Class LL state championship this past spring and should bring a winning attitude to a team that desperately needs it.
Fairfield has struggled in recent years with the town’s top players opting for summer baseball other than Legion
This season, the team does have CHSCA LL All-State P/IF Ryan Donnelly on the squad.
Finding more pitching and being able to hit consistently against the top pitchers in the zone will be a challenge.
The overall record for Bridgeport will likely be below .500, but the team should compete in every game and is capable of pulling an upset or two.
Teams making playoff plans would be wise not to overlook Bridgeport later in the season.