BRISTOL – For the first time since 2008, the Bristol Legion baseball team did not finish in first place in Zone 1 play.
Post 2 (20-7) finished only one game out as surprising Southington (21-6) captured top honors while third place Avon (19-8) faltered badly down the stretch.
However, the second place finish is a credit to Bristol as the squad was dead in the water early in the campaign.
Over its first nine games, Post 2 carried a Zone 1 ledger of just 5-4 and was a middle of the pack team.
But Bristol’s veteran coach certainly never game up the faith and knew what his team was capable of once a little consistency was established.
“I was very confident that this team would turn it around,” said Bristol coach Dave Nocera. “I know early in the season, there are a lot of distractions for these kids (like) graduation, all star games. This year in particular, there were probably more distractions for these guys early in the season than any year since I’ve been here.”
Once those distractions finally melted away, baseball became the primary focus and that’s when Bristol took off.
For most of the year, Post 2 looked up at Avon and Southington in the standings.
In fact, the Avon squad nearly carried a three-game lead over Post 2 for most of the season before the team imploded late in the year.
That’s when Post 2 begun playing it best baseball.
Bristol won its final eight games of the season and off that 5-4 Zone 1 start, Post 2 went 15-3 the rest of the way to close out a busy slate of games.
Getting to 5-4 in the Zone to start its first nine games was amazing in itself when dealing with all sorts of scheduling conflicts.
Each and every game seemingly had a different line-up, but once the rotation was set and Bristol stuck to it, consistency was quick to follow.
“I had a hard time deciding what I was going to do with my rotation,” said Nocera of his pitching staff. “(For) assistant coach Jeff Fruchtenicht and myself, there were at least three games where we had to change our starting pitcher because of an all star game, injury or whatever.”
“Once we got beyond graduation, I think we could focus on the job at hand and I think that was one of the reasons why we turned it around.”
Getting that consistency helped in every stage of Bristol’s game and once its pitching caught a little fire, so did its hitting.
And from leadoff batters like Matt Blandino to the ninth man in the order such as Matt Bossi or Jake Martel, the team’s batting average took off over the second half of the season.
“I think, baseball is contagious,” said Nocera. “If you’re not hitting well, it tends to carry over to everybody else. All of a sudden a few guys get hot and it carries over and that’s exactly what happened (with us). As soon as we started swinging the bats much better, the hitting became contagious and now everybody’s hitting.”
This past season, the Bristol squad had six or seven players hitting over .300 and in the case of Tyler Bush, the former Bristol Eastern standout, the Legion all star was whacking the ball at a clip near or above .400.
“In all the years we went to wood (bats), we’ve never had that,” said Nocera of all the .300 hitting. “Usually, we only have one, maybe two. But we had six, which is a tremendous season of hitting with wood.”
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