Every year it rears its ugly head. It forces American Legion teams to start the season without key players and there’s no telling when they might return. It’s not an injury, it’s the CIAC state tournament, dubbed “the curse of the state championship,” by Branford coach Rich Balzano.
“Any program with a high school team that wins a state championship, the Legion team has to play the day after the championship game,” the coach said.
However, teams find a way to get through it. Branford won the state crown last season and advanced to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, North Carolina. They featured multiple players who starred on a North Branford High School team that made a nice run in states.
However, North Branford, Branford or Notre Dame-West Haven did not advance to the state title game last year. That was not the case in 2006, when Branford High made it to the Class L final. Luckily for Balzano and Co., the Hornets won the championship, topping Pomperaug 3-0 and downing the curse.
Orange coach Ron Mirto almost was not as lucky.
In 2003 Amity went to the Class LL final, but lost in heartbreaking 2-1 fashion. Despite the dreaded curse of the state championship, Amity’s players came through for Orange the next day.
“They showed up and we won a tough game,” Mirto said.
Both coaches said practices can be tough, as high school players are not allowed to participate until their high school season’s end. However, when players come in, they’re ready.
“We’re not looking at this as a recreational thing,” Mirto said. “This is a no-nonsense make-up. No ones going to take the summer off.”
Branford doesn’t take any days off, either. Branford is playing a 45-game schedule this season, with 15 games out of Zone 2. The schedule provides more than enough time to get back in the swing of things.
“Our kids seem to get ready pretty quick,” Balzano said.
He said he’s only got one starter playing high school baseball. Mirto, who gets players from perineal state power Amity, tends to have more than that. Either way, whether they’re beaming from a state crown, lamenting from a close loss or still licking their wounds from an early round defeat, when they return they usually come to play.
“They’re not effected by (the state tournament),” Balzano said. “They’re ballplayers.”