Southington, Stamford, RCP and Cheshire are the last four teams to win the Senior American Legion state championship.
Not surprisingly, all four come in to this year’s tournament as top seeds with eyes on bringing home another title and earning a trip to the northeast regionals, and possibly the national tournament in Shelby, N.C.
The four past champions are certainly not alone, with a hungry field of contenders looking to have their names mentioned alongside the perennial top dogs.
The Senior American Legion state tournament begins Saturday and continues to the championship series Aug. 2-3 at Ceppa Field in Meriden.
The opening round is pod play with four teams playing in double-elimination format.
The winner of each pod advances to the super regionals in the Northern and Southern Divisions.
The northern super regionals will be held in South Windsor while Meriden hosts the southern super regional.
All opening round games are scheduled for Saturday with the second games Sunday as the winners playing the winners and the losers playing the losers.
Here is a look at each pod and division.
NORTHERN DIVISION SECTIONAL
There is nothing easy about Pod A.
Simsbury (18-6) was the top team out of challenging Zone 1 this season and has one of the deeper pitching staffs in the state.
Waterford (18-6) has a roster with many players coming from the Waterford High team that won the CIAC Class L state championship this spring.
Waterford last won a Legion championship in 2008 and is ready to make another run if it can escape the pod.
Norwich (12-12) and South Windsor (9-12) face an uphill battle to knock off both of the top two seeds and jump into the next round.
None of the teams from Pod B has won a state championship since Middletown brought it all home in 1982.
Tri-Town would like to change that, and after going 19-5 this regular season seem poised for a run in this tournament.
Made up of players from all over eastern Connecticut, the team’s pitching staff only allowed 63 runs all season.
West Hartford (15-9) came out of the same tough Zone 1 as Southington, and Simsbury and will have something to say about Tri-Town’s quest for a title.
West Hartford was 10-3 at home this summer and that’s where it will play its opening game against Enfield (13-9).
Middletown (12-10) has to face West Hartford in the opening game, but should be up for the challenge after faring well in the difficult Zone 3.
The first glaring spot is RCP and Southington finding themselves in the same pod, meaning one of them is going home prior to the super regionals.
Southington (17-7) is the top seed in Pod C with RCP (14-8), Berlin (13-11) and Niantic (14-10) filling out the pod.
The Southington team is on a special run. After winning the Legion title last summer, many of the same players were on the Southington High team that finished as the runner-up in the CIAC Class LL championship game.
This group would love to go out with one more title under their belts.
Watch out for Berlin in this pod as many of its players were part of Berlin High’s run to the CIAC Class L title game this past spring.
The past five years, RCP has been maybe the toughest team in the state to eliminate from this tournament, making this pod absolutely brutal to advance from.
The top seed in Pod D is the team with the most state titles to its name, Bristol.
Bristol (18-6), whose last title came in 2006, finished tied with Simsbury atop Zone 1, but lost out on the top spot via a tiebreaker.
Bristol will have its hands full with a very good Glastonbury team (14-8) out of Zone 3.
Glastonbury opens up against EHM (11-11), also out of Zone 3.
Jewett City (15-9) finished third in Zone 6 behind Waterford and Tri-Town, but poses a very dangerous challenge to top-seeded Bristol, having scored 144 runs this summer.
On paper, this looks like one of the more up-for-grabs pods in the tournament.
SOUTHERN DIVISION SECTIONAL TOURNAMENT
Cheshire (22-3) comes in as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.
The roster is loaded with championship pedigree. Many of the players were on the 2018 CIAC Class LL championship team and were part of a Rams team that won 25 straight games this past spring before losing in the state semifinals.
It will be a massive undertaking for one of the other three teams to get out of this pod.
Cheshire opens up against Danbury (12-12).
Bethel (14-10) may be Cheshire’s biggest threat in this pod but did not face anyone in Zone 5 quite on par with Cheshire.
Bethel’s pitching staff is deep, talented and tournament-ready.
Stratford (12-12) was shipped to Zone 4 this summer and did well at times, going up against the best teams from Fairfield County.
The Stratford-Bethel winner could give Cheshire a fight on Sunday.
Hamden’s reward for a 20-6 regular season is a pod with two Zone 4 teams and Zone 5 champion Washington.
Hamden will open by hosting Greenwich (14-9), one of the three teams to beat Stamford this summer, in an excellent opening game.
Meanwhile, Washington (18-6) won Zone 5 with a roster full of players from the CIAC Class S runner-up Shepaug Valley while also picking up players from New Milford.
Washington will face Ridgefield (12-12) on Saturday.
Ridgefield had trouble scoring runs this summer, putting up just 70 runs while allowing 92. It will have to get more on the board if it hopes to get out of this pod.
If one team has rivaled RCP’s success the past five seasons, it is Stamford. The 2017 champion was also runner-up to RCP in 2017 and 16.
This year, Stamford (21-3) comes in right behind Cheshire for the best record, boasting one of the best pitching staffs around, allowing only 56 runs this season.
Stamford was quickly eliminated in two games of pod play last summer and will be strongly challenged again in pod play.
It opens up against Orange (14-12) out of Zone 2.
Orange is a dangerous Game 1 opponent with a roster full of players from the highly successful Amity Regional High School team.
Oakville (12-12) from Zone 5 will travel to North Haven (18-9).
North Haven is another team out of the powerful Zone 2 capable of not only winning the pod, but making a run to the championship.
Trumbull (18-6) reached the semifinals last summer before being knocked out by Southington.
Trumbull may be even better this summer with a few new additions to the roster from both Trumbull High and St. Joseph.
Like Stamford, Trumbull pitchers were stingy, only giving up 57 runs all summer.
Trumbull will open up against Meriden (11-16), which qualified for the tournament because it is a host town for the super regionals.
Naugatuck (13-11) comes in from Zone 5 and will take on Wallingford (14-11).
Naugatuck has won six Legion state titles, but none since 1970.
Wallingford scored 134 runs this summer and could challenge the Trumbull pitchers if it can advance to the winner’s game Sunday.