Ellington American Legion 19u Team Cements Great Season With Tournament Success

The Ellington American Legion 19U program had an unforgettable season in 2018. Building on the success of the previous year’s squad as well as players who graduated from the town’s 2017 17u state champions, Ellington had an outstanding regular season. The team played at an ever-higher level in the postseason, going on a run to the state championship series and advancing to the Northeast Regional.

“This was a great team and group of players, the best we’ve ever had,” Ellington head coach Heath Kidd said. “I’m extremely proud of the guys and the success our team had this season.”

In the regular season, Ellington went 16-5, tying for first place in Zone 8 by record with rivals Tolland and South Windsor. It ended the season strong by going 7-2 in June, with a six-game win streak along the way. The offense averaged nearly six runs per game, while the pitching staff held opponents to 3.43 RPG. Ellington played a game at Dunkin Donuts Field, the stadium of the Hartford Yard Goats.

After the great regular season, Ellington entered the Northern Division Regional Tournament, beginning on July 21st. It won POD C by defeating Simsbury and then Berlin twice, scoring a combined 17 runs in the process. In the Northern Division Super Regional, Ellington lost its first game 2-1 to RCP on the 28th, falling into the loser’s basket. The squad were no losers, however.  Ellington bounced back the next day by defeating West Hartford 4-2, with Brayden Barone pitching a complete game and allowing no earned runs.  Kevin Smith matched him the next day against Try-County, allowing 3 hits and 1 run in a 4-1 win.

These outstanding performances advanced Ellington to the semifinals and another matchup with RCP on the 31st in Bristol. This time, the offense and defense were operating at high level, with Smith hitting a bases loaded triple and Stefan Lesco firing 6 ½ innings of one-run ball in the 5-1 triumph. The teams reunited for an elimination game the next day. This time, it was Dakota Aldrich as the ace. He tossed a three-hit complete game, allowing no earned runs. Lesco, Smith, Chase Kidd and Sam Corriveau gave him all the support he needed, hitting consecutive RBI singles in the third inning as Ellington captured the Super Regional title with a 5-2 win. The title advanced Ellington to the State Championship Series against Southington. The pitching staff finished with a combined Super Regional ERA of 0.40.

The best-of-three Championship Series began Friday the 3rd. at Ceppa Field in Meriden. Ellington took the lead early but went on to lose 3-2.

With Barone on the mound, Ellington jumped out to a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the first, Aldrich, playing left field, kicked off the attack with a line drive double and would score on a sacrifice fly by Smith. In the third, Kidd and Aldrich hit singles and Aldrich scored on an error committed on a grounder by Smith.

In the top of the fourth Southington scored all of its three runs, with the key hit proving to be the game winner. The rally was unfortunately supported by a pair of errors by Ellington’s infielders, another example of the team’s defensive struggles in tournament play. Smith misplayed a ground ball to third, and following a walk Lesco made a poor throw to Brady Coleman at second to load the bases. Star Jeremy Mercier then stepped up and smashed a deep line drive to clear the bases, giving Southington a 3-2 lead.

“To play at this level here, we need to play better defense. It’s been our Achilles heel,” Kidd said following the game. “I don’t know if it (the struggles) gets in their heads a bit, but they pause and make mistakes. When you get into that situation a good hitter is going to put the ball in play, and he definitely did,” Kidd said.

“It’s just part of the game, you’re going to get innings like that,” Barone said. “I left the pitch (to Mercier) kind of fat and he was able to drive it to left center field.”

In the final four innings, Ellington had multiple chances to score but was unable to get a run home. The best chance came in the fifth when right fielder Adam Muszi singled and advanced to third on a stolen base and groundball, but was stranded. Kidd attributed some of the offensive struggles to anxiousness.

Barone improved his ability to locate pitches as the game went on and forced off-balance swings. He did not allow a Southington hitter to advance past first in the final three innings. Catcher Aaron Young threw out three baserunners.

“Aaron’s really played well throughout the tournament and was great on defense. He’s our guy back there, he works hard and is a student of that craft and had a great game tonight,” Kidd said.

In the elimination game against Southington the next afternoon, Ellington lost in highly painful fashion, falling 7-6 in eight innings on a walk-off hit by Andrew Owsianko. The game was constantly back-and-forth, with the teams trading the lead and making comebacks.

After Southington took a 2-0 lead against Smith on a home run by Mercier and single by Daniel Topper, Ellington scored four runs in the top of the fifth after struggling at the plate earlier. Aldrich hit a bases-loaded double to score three runs, and Smith followed with a double to make it 4-2.

“After he missed with a curveball on the first pitch, I thought a fastball was coming and just put good wood on it,” Aldrich said.

In the bottom of the frame, Southington tied the score on a passed ball and sacrifice fly.

The team traded runs in the sixth to send the game to extra innings. Logan Terry opened with a double and scored on a single by Ryan Decker to put Ellington up.

“On offense, we were able to adjust our approach at the plate after talking a little, and afterwards we were more disciplined and took better swings and multiple guys came up big,” Kidd said.

After reliever Mike Dubiel came out to replace Smith, Ellington’s defensive struggles again sprouted up. With two outs and Topper on third, Terry made a poor throw on ground ball to third. Smith, now playing first, was unable to scoop the throw, allowing Topper to score.

The score remained 5-5 until the eighth inning, when Ellington first grabbed back the lead. Singles by Young, Decker and Muszi (the last a bunt) loaded the bases, and Chase Kidd put together a strong-at-bat against Justin Verrelli, drawing a walk to score the run.

In the bottom of the frame, Coleman took the mound. With one out, Josh Panarella singled. Coleman obtained the second out, but Brayden Cooney drew a walk to set up Oswianko’s theatrics and Southington’s state title. He hit a deep line drive to the left field gap. Aldrich, who is a strong fielder, overran the ball and then lost his footing, allowing the ball to fall and bounce away and Panarella and Cooney to race around the bases, setting off a raucous celebration.

“It’s a heart breaker to lose like that, but Dakota is a big reason why we’re here and that game is not on him,” Ellington head coach Heath Kidd said. “We put up better run support, we don’t make an error here or there, we win the game last night, none of that matters.”

“I thought I had the ball down going off the bat, but I just overran it and lost my footing when I tried to run back to it,” Aldrich said. “If I didn’t lose my footing, I think I would have made the catch. I’m happy with the way our guys played and if f a few things had gone different ways, I think we win the ballgame.”

Three Ellington players were named to the All-Tournament Team. Young was named to the team at catcher, Aldrich as an outfielder and Lesco as a pitcher.

Kidd and Aldrich both happily reflected on Ellington’s overall state tournament play and the skills and chemistry it exhibited.

“We’ve worked to improve the program the last few years, and it really showed this season and in the tournament,” Kidd said. “The guys played at their best in a lot of it.”

“This team is really close and had good pitching and defense all year, and for a few games everything came alive,” Aldrich said.

Ellington qualified for the American Legion Northeast Regional Tournament in Worcester as Connecticut’s B Champion, joining Southington.

The team played two games in the Northeast Regional, losing to Braintree (MA) on the 8th and Southington on the 9th. Ellington fell 7-2 in the first loss. The defense was again highly erratic, committing 3 errors that led to three unearned runs. The offense outhit Braintree nine to four, but did not convert on multiple chances.

Ellington’s season-ending loss to its new rival was tough to take, as it struggled in all phases of the game during the 12-1 defeat.  Aldrich struggled on the mound for one of the only times this season, allowing five runs on eight hits in five innings. The defense had multiple errors after Dubiel entered the game, leading to a seven-run seventh, none earned.

Ellington finished 2018 with a record of 23-10.

“Dakota has been a great pitcher all season, but he seemed flat and didn’t have his best stuff that day,” Kidd said later. “We struggled to put it all together. [Ultimately] Although our defense struggled down the stretch, our pitching and hitting was effective.”

Kidd made clear how proud Ellington was to make the State Championship Series and then compete in the Northeast Regionals.

“It was very exciting for the program and players to make it this far to Worcester. We’re very proud of coming out of the losers’ bracket to win the Super Regionals and make it so far in tournament play. It’s a great opportunity to play not only in Worcester but places like Muzzy Field and the Yard Goats place.”

Kidd similarly made clear how proud he was of each individual player and how special the season was to him.

“This was an unforgettable season and one I will remember for the rest of my life and couldn’t be prouder of our coaches (Barone and Young) and our players. They are a great group and all talented players. I especially give special thanks to our eight veteran players who are aging out of the program for their efforts.”

For the Ellington American Legion program, the 19u team competing in the Championship Series and Northeast Regional, along with the 15u team reaching the state championship game, is an indication of how it is growing and becoming more successful at all levels.

“Our coaching staff and players are working really hard to build a top-notch program that gives our players opportunities to play at a high level against good competition and in great venues,” Kidd said. “I am very proud of our 15u coach Chris Mateya and 17u coach Jim Laughlan for their leadership and success, with both winning their zone and going to the tourney and 15u finishing as the state runner-up. We will work hard in the offseason with hitting and pitching development and run an expanding Fall Ball season.”

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