By MICHAEL LETENDRE
SOUTH WINDSOR – How successful was the season for the 2019 Bristol American Legion Senior baseball squad?
Maybe the program did not get to the Connecticut state championship game but a 24-win campaign can’t be easily dismissed.
Twenty of those victories came during regular season play while a lively 4-2 postseason ledger – foiled by just a couple bad innings in the end – was an excellent indicator of a successful summer.
And there were some big come-from-behind wins to keep things moving in Zone 1 play for Post 2 over the year.
“We had about six walk-off wins,” said Bristol coach Jerry LaPenta of the season.
Pitching was the strength of this squad as four different players reached five wins in the end.
Midway through the year, opponents were batting just .201 against Bristol and that didn’t change much as the season concluded.
The team ERA of 1.60 through 21 games was also pretty impressive and some of those pitchers, such as Alex Balfour, carried an ERA not even worth mentioning in the end.
Balfour, maybe the surprise of the pitching rotation, went a perfect 5-0 this summer. At one point, he was carrying an ERA of 0.27. He won two of his games in state tournament play and came up clutch during those showdowns.
Stephen Warkoski ended the summer at 5-2 and allowed only three hits in his 2-1 complete game loss to Waterford to finish the year.
And a couple of Bristol Eastern pitchers left their marks on the program as well.
Trevor Mays (5-2) had some signature wins that included a complete game, a two-hit shutout of Berlin on July 22, while leading Post 2 to the Pod D, clinching a 9-3 victory over Jewett City.
And then Jagger Duquette had an excellent summer before moving on to pitch a bit for the Bristol Blues – earning a 1-0 record and 1.50 ERA for the boys in blue.
He went 5-2 for Post 2 and had a day against Hartford in Bristol’s 7-0 win on June 23 – throwing a no-hitter to lead the troops.
Cory Fradette (2-0) and Noah Plantamuro (2-0) helped the squad close more than a few games. While the team didn’t have an official closer, the duo combined their talents well to help fill that role.
Catching most of the time was Carson Sassu, who was one of the team’s leaders in batting average as was Plantamuro.
Evan Bouchard brought an excellent defensive approach to the infield as did Plantamuro at shortstop and Fradette in center.
This team returned several veteran hands this year. Where would the squad be without the invaluable contributions of veterans Mac Goulet, Ryan Greene, Alec DiLoreto, Josh Nohilly, and Warkoski?
Bristol ended the regular season at 20-7 and were the top-rated squad in Pod D of the state tournament bracket.
Post 2 outscored its opponents 25-11 over three games on its way to the Northern portion of the Super Regional and started play with a 12-3 demolition of West Hartford on July 27.
From there, the ending was a tough one as a five-run seventh by Southington saw Bristol earn its first postseason loss of the year (5-2). Finally, Waterford snuck across a couple of late runs in the sixth inning to foil the locals (2-1) – ending a very good year of Bristol baseball.
In the conclusion of the Connecticut tournament, only six squads were battling for the state championship over the final days of action and Bristol was one of those teams.
“We still had a nice run,” said LaPenta, “[We] finished in the top six of the state.”
But LaPenta got to enjoy another season of baseball with a very good crew who played a solid brand of baseball and was a top team in Zone 1.
There was good chemistry and it was an enjoyable ride until the final out was posted.
“I’ll look back and it’s just a lot of great memories for us,” said LaPenta. “For six, almost eight weeks, we had a lot of fun together.”
Speaking of Zone 1, Bristol tied Simsbury for the best record at 18-6 but due to tie breakers and the like, Post 84 was able to take the championship banner this year.
In postseason play, Simsbury never made it out of its own pod while Bristol was a Super Regional participant.
“Even though we didn’t technically win the zone, I considered that we tied the zone,” said LaPenta. “The tie-breaker thing [got us]. We battled all year. We’re just as good as Simsbury. We stayed longer in the tournament than they did.”
Maybe Simsbury should have given half the Zone 1 banner to Bristol.
And Post 2 made a real run at the Zone 1 title despite the actual zone falling apart a bit before and during season play.
Before the year commenced, the Plainville/Unionville/Burlington juggernaut never got off the ground while Hartford was forced to fold midway through its campaign.
But Bristol, battling every and all comers, never gave in, always put in one heck of an effort and the 24-9 ledger to end the season is a testament of the quality of baseball in the Mum City this past year.
“We had great team unity,” said LaPenta. “They played hard. They never gave up.”