Ellington American Legion Baseball Building Strong Foundation

ELLINGTON-The Ellington American Legion Baseball program, which also serves players from Somers and Vernon, has grown impressively in recent years. After having a 19U Senior team (currently coached by Heath Kidd) for many years, Heath and Ken Young added a 17u Junior team (currently coached by Jim Laughlan) four years ago. This was followed by Jim building a 15U Prep team (currently coached by Chris Mateya) two years ago. This growth includes the Legion program helping introduce a Prep team to the Farmington Bank/Vantis Life League this summer (currently coached by Rob Terry).

The increase in players joining and remaining in the Ellington program has resulted in success on the field, with the 17U team winning the Connecticut State Championship three weeks ago, and the 15U teams qualifying for this season’s state tournaments. Even more importantly, however, the program has brought players and towns closer together and helped players mature.

Ellington’s three American Legion Baseball teams each have large rosters and compete in state Zone 8. The players have experience competing together in their hometown’s youth leagues, and the program allows them to continue sharing fun experiences in high-quality leagues while making one another better. Simultaneously, players from separate towns get an opportunity to compete and become friendly with peers they traditionally played against.

Members of the Senior and Junior teams provided passionate answers when questioned about the biggest benefits American Legion provided to players.

“It allows players to have fun in a high-quality league. I feel like the program builds real team atmospheres and continuity,” Laughlan said. “That is seen in the interest of the community.”

“Legion baseball is more relaxed,” 19U standout Chase Kidd said. “The games are very fun and I always love playing in their atmosphere.”

American Legion stands out from high school and AAU baseball in multiple ways. The most prominent examples are the use of wood bats and the high quality of pitching throughout every zone. Logan Terry and Chase both discussed the challenge this posed to hitters, and how they’ve embraced it.

“Hitting with a wood bat is very different from using aluminum,” Terry said. “It’s tough to face strong pitchers when using them, but I think wood bats have made me a more patient and efficient hitter. This will help me significantly for when I begin playing in college.”

“It’s tough to face talented older pitchers when using a wood bat,” Chase said. “This challenge has made me a more focused and mature hitter and better overall player.”

Heath Kidd and Laughlan each gave large credit for the growth of the Ellington American Legion program to the efforts of multiple coaches and administrators. Kidd, who is the General Manager of the entire program, named multiple individuals who have been instrumental in its growth and talent development, including Laughlan, Curt Holmes, Mateya, Ken Young, and Rob Roberts.

“We have worked very hard to put on a top-level program for our guys and earned the respect of many of our opponents in the league, having gone to additional teams and building a strong talent pipeline in just a few short years,” Kidd said.

“It’s been great to see how the program has expanded during my time as a player,” Chase said. “The level of competition has become tougher, and as a result playing has become more fun.”

The program has a rich partnership with the Ellington American Legion organization, also known as Post 62. It sponsors and supports the program, and Heath and Laughlan said Legion members have always been dedicated fans. Heath went into more detail about the importance of this partnership.

“Our players are very proud of the history of Ellington American Legion and really value the fact that we are able to represent them well. It is really rewarding for players to see the character of these members, and then work to represent and emulate it. We are representing our Veterans and are proud to do so”, said Kidd.

Star Brady Coleman, a native of Somers, also discussed the appreciation he has for the Legion’s backing.

“The members are always there watching and rooting for us. It’s also wonderful that my grandmother, a member of American Legion, has come and provided highly meaningful support,” Coleman said.

Each Ellington Legion team has loyal and enthusiastic followings among residents of Ellington and Somers each summer. Coaches and players try to reward them through hard work and strong play.

“I really value being able to represent the town of Ellington, it makes me proud,” Terry said. “At the same time, playing for the program has allowed me to feel more connection to kids from Somers and their town.”

Heath discussed the importance of Ellington Legion serving players from Somers and now Vernon.

“Bringing Somers and Vernon/Rockville into our program has been very rewarding. It allows players from the towns to each face the same high-quality competition and for the teams to be very competitive. And ultimately, it builds lasting relationships between the players and the towns,” Heath said.

“For myself and other Somers residents, it is fun to come together and compete with Ellington rivals, more than just than playing against them,” Coleman said. “Bringing the towns’ together feels special, and I have a much greater current affection for Ellington than previously.

The League hosts a state-wide Rawlings Showcase game each year during the season. The Showcase is the premier event for honoring the top players on a 19u team, and allows them to compete against one another in a competitive setting with nearly 40 college scouts in attendance. Each year, Ellington has placed at least one player in this Showcase”. Heath called the Rawlings Showcase “special and meaningful for all players who participate”. This season, Ellington sent Coleman, who led it in batting average at .385 and slugged .508.

“As the season went on, I began playing at my highest level. It feels good to be considered as one of the best.”

The Ellington 19U, 17U and 15U teams each had memorable regular seasons, with the Junior and Prep teams earning berths to their state tournament.

Laughlan’s squad finished third in Zone 8 with a record of 11-10. Ellington played much better in the second half of the season, going 7-3 in its last 10 games, and displaying the winning blueprint they brought to the 17U State Tournament. Laughlan said Somers resident Sam Corriveau had been Ellington’s best hitter and team leader and earned a spot on the 17u post-season All-Star team. Gavin Laughlin, the team’s best pitcher, and Somers resident Zach Chaisson joined Sam on the team.

Ellington earned the tenth seed in the tournament, which began on the 17th. In its opening round game, the team defeated No. 7 Ledyard 7-1. The team then faced No. 2 Niantic in three straight games. After winning the first on the 19th 5-2, Ellington clinched a spot in the eight-team Championship Series three days later by defeating Niantic 5-2.

In the quarterfinals on the 25th, Ellington defeated Tolland 6-1, and followed up the next day with a 6-5 edging of West Hartford. In the finals against Stratford on the 30th, Ellington’s offense exploded, scoring 13 runs to give the team the trophy. After holding a 5-1 lead with two outs in the bottom of seventh inning, one out away from winingthe championship, it allowed Stratford to rally and tie. The teams again traded big frames in the eighth, each scoring five runs. Ellington finally secured the win by scoring three in the ninth, with Gavin Laughlan picking up the win.

“I was so proud of how the team kept coming back and scoring after we were one out away from winning the championship in both the 7th and 8th,” Jim Laughlan said. “We showed a lot of determination to keep battling.”

Laughlan discussed the strengths Ellington displayed in winning the tournament.

“We put three phases of the game together: Strong pitching that went deep into games, led by Caleb Spielman; solid defense that limited the number of big innings; and a deep lineup that came up with many timely hits and big innings,” he said. ”

Logan Macaluso was named Tournament MVP. He lead Ellington with 14 postseason hits from the lead-off spot, and controlled opponents running games as catcher. Spielman was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Pitcher. He won two games and pitched outstanding in the championship game, and ultimately allowed just four earned runs in 19 innings.

“This championship is something the coaches and players will remember the rest of their lives,” Lauglan said. “Our program has shown good growth over the last 3-4 years, and success like this shows that we are a very competitive baseball program and can compete with the best programs across the state.”

The 15u team, coached by Chris Mateya had a banner regular season at 17-5. In the 15U State Tournament, it defeated Middletown 13-9 in the first round on July 23rd, but lost 3-2 to rival Tolland two days later.

“I am incredibly proud to have Coach Mateya join our coaching staff and help build our program,” Heath said.

The Ellington 19U team went 8-13, finishing fifth in the zone and missing out on a tournament berth. It struggled early in the season with 5 losses by 1 run, but played much better in the final few weeks.

We were a young group and I am proud of how we competed in the second half of the season,” Heath said. “We refocused and played well down the stretch. I have to give a special thanks to our guys playing their last year of eligibility for us for all their great effort – Josh Sumislaski, James Chaisson and Ethan Spielman”.

In addition to Coleman, Terry and Kidd, starters Stefan Lesco (second base) and Aaron Young (catcher) received All-Star selections for upper and underclassman games in the post season. Sumislaski was the squad’s top pitcher.

No matter the success Ellington American Legion baseball players have on the field in the years to come, they should leave their career in the growing program with very rich memories. Logan and Chase are certainly doing so as they prepare to begin playing at Western Connecticut State and Keene State College, respectively.

“I will sincerely miss playing for Ellington and with all my great teammates and coaches. It was an unforgettable experience, and I know Legion helped me improve significantly as a player. I’m now very confident entering college”, commented Terry.

 

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