Bethel, Danbury Legion teams set for postseason
BETHEL — Bethel Admirals Senior Legion coach Josh Hull described his crew as having the chemistry of the 2004 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, a group of loose players who described themselves as “idiots.”
The same ending would be just fine for Josh Hull and his players.
The Admirals closed the book on their regular season Tuesday night, using timely hitting and several walks in a row to hold off neighbor Danbury 4-2. Bethel finished the summer 14-10, with the state playoffs set to begin Saturday.
“Our team is loose and zany like the Red Sox teams 15 years ago,” said Hull, who has coached in the program for 22 years. “The only thing our guys lack are the beards and long hair.”
The example Hull referred to might fly over the heads of his athletes, who were barely in elementary school when the Red Sox claimed their first title in 88 years. The Admirals are comprised of players from both Newtown and Bethel.
“As big as the Newtown-Bethel rivalry is, I have a lot of friends on Bethel and I look forward to coming and playing with this team,” said rising Newtown senior Josh Taylor. “It’s just a lot of fun; you expect to make a run in the state tournament because we have a lot of good players.”
Zone 5 was competitive all year with Washington posting the best record at 16-6; five of the seven teams qualified for the playoffs, including Bethel — which finished in second place — and Danbury.
Center fielder Tyler Davis has been a standout, Hull said. Fellow Wildcats graduate Brian Ridzik has made the transition to catcher for the Admirals. Bethel has yielded 3.5 runs per game mostly behind the pitching rotation of Orlando Swift, Bryan VanderHave and Nick Vieira.
A pleasant surprise for the Admirals has been the emergence of Newtown rising senior Brett Melchionno. With a deep pitching staff in front of him in Nighthawks colors — he didn’t throw a varsity inning this spring — Melchionno had to wait until the summer to showcase his skills.
The Junior Legion team posted the best record in the state last year and reached the quarterfinals, and hopes are high of making a strong run again with the talent on the roster. The tournament will feature 24 teams in a double-elimination format, with six groups of four squads. Bethel will host a first-round game Saturday.
“This team has overcome a lot of adversity,” Taylor said. “Guys have stepped up like Melchionno, he’s pitched sensational for us this summer. Our record isn’t where we want it to be, but we’re in the state tournament and we’re hopefully going to make a run.”
The loss to Bethel in the season finale was the lone dim spot for Danbury over the last two weeks. A six-game win streak got the club back into a positive mood after a rough start, and a 12-12 record heading into the postseason was lifted by their late-season momentum.
Danbury has players from Danbury, New Fairfield, Abbott Tech, Immaculate and Brookfield. They established chemistry early with first-year coach Dave Simone.
“We have a diverse team,” Simone said. “There’s a grace period that these guys had to get used to playing with each other because they don’t know each other. It takes a couple of weeks and it was challenging in the beginning, because we have a lot of personalities. But we figured out some things.”
A triple threat of Danbury pitchers leads the rotation: Justin Hope, Rich Wekerle and Andrew Philbin have logged most of the innings for the Westerners so far this summer.
“We have guys who can throw strikes and get outs,” Simone said. “Justin is our ace on the mound and a middle infielder when he’s not pitching. He’s an all-around competitor, he wants to win. He’s a grinder and good ball player.”
Like Bethel, Danbury will hope to rely on pitching and defense to navigate its way through the tournament. The two teams may wind up in the same pod when the brackets are released.
“Last year they had a tough year and we’re trying to put Danbury Legion back on the map,” Simone said. “I think once we hit that groove we were playing well. We’re playing really good baseball, and the guys are playing with each other and getting that chemistry.”