CROMWELL >> As the Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland players arrived at Monnes Field on Tuesday in preparation for tomorrow’s Northeast Regional tournament, RCP coach Jay Hickey was overcome with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
RCP captured their third straight Zone 7 championship this summer. It was their sixth league title in eight years. RCP then reached the state finals for the second time in three years, falling short against Cheshire, 2-1, in the best-of-three championship series.
RCP, however, was awarded a nice consolation prize. Connecticut moved up to No. 6 this year among states with the most registered legion teams and Hickey’s club garnered one of the six at-large bids into the national regionals.
Can Shelby (N.C.) and a trip to the Legion World Series be next for RCP?
“It feels great just to be playing,” said Hickey, now in his ninth year. “Two years ago when Milford beat us, we were done. Obviously, when Cheshire beat us we still knew we were still going to be playing in the Northeast regionals, which I think is a nice, big, accomplishment for this team.”
After defeating Windsor Locks twice to get into the state tourney’s Northern Regional, RCP defeated Waterford and Simsbury before losing to Tolland. But RCP bounced back and defeated Tolland in the Northern final to earn a date with Cheshire in the state finals.
“It’s been a tough 10 days,” Hickey added. “Getting up for these games takes a lot out of you. It was a long (state) tournament. It definitely takes its toll. Hopefully, we’ll see how we come out on Thursday.”
RCP (23-7) will meet New Hampshire state champion Dover (18-5) in the second game of Thursday’s morning doubleheader at William J. Pomfret Stadium at Palmer Field. Dover defeated Derry, 3-2, in the championship game. Winning pitcher Aaron Denis tossed a five-hitter and was named the tourney’s most outstanding pitcher.
“The kids said to me, ‘don’t worry coach, we’ll see Cheshire again.’ And I told them I’m not worried about Cheshire, I’m worried about New Hampshire,” said Hickey.
After a summer of wood bat baseball, RCP will look to get its offense in gear with metal bats. Leading the way will be Cory Baldwin (.340, 16 RBIs), Chris Bouchard (.297, 15 RBIs), Alex Ramirez (.294, 16 RBIs), Kevin Radziewicz (.284, 12 RBIs). Logan Lessard (.272, 11 RBIs), Cole Ogorzalek (.333) and Josh Zawisa (.357).
“The guys are actually excited swinging the bats in the cage,” said Hickey. “Going from wood bat to metal they think they’re all Hank Aarons.”
RCP’s defense is led by shortstop Christian Budzik, outfielders Tommy Seaver and Ramirez, and Radziewicz behind the plate.
“The defense we have to shore up,” Hickey said. “We can’t have those one or two bad innings where the team gets five or six runs.”
RCP will also rely on a pitching staff that had an earned run average of less than one during the regular season. Hard throwing righthander Jake Regula (9-0. 0.36 ERA) didn’t allow an earned run until the state finals where he went five innings and was the winning pitcher in RCP’s 7-5 victory in game two.
Regula also struck out 15 or more batters four times, including 19 in a 7-0 win over Windsor Locks, and has 92 strikeouts in 57 innings.
Bryant-bound lefthander Logan Lessard is 5-1 with a 1.15 ERA. Lessard has 48 strikeouts in 38 innings.
RCP’s terrific staff also includes Seaver (3-2), Ogorzalek (3-1), Ramirez (1-2) and Tucker Lord (2-1, three saves).
“I said to the kids, there’s eight teams and one goes to the World Series…the team that pitches best, plays the best defense and has quality at-bats is going to come out of here as the representative… why can’t it be us?” said Hickey. “We’re looking forward to it. Hopefully, we’re going to represent RCP Post 105 in the tournament well.”