By MICHAEL LETENDRE
PLAINVILLE – The Plainville American Legion senior baseball program ended the year at 4-14 but made significant progress along the way this season in a brand new zone.
Post 33 made the switch from Zone 7 to Zone 1 for the 2018 campaign and stayed a bit more local – battling the likes of Bristol, Wolcott, Avon, and Simsbury.
And while the final record might not show it, the change was of benefit to the Plainville program in terms of growth and competition.
“I think it was a good move for us,” said Plainville coach Brian McCarthy. “We were a lot more competitive in Zone 1 it felt like for us.”
For years, Post 33 has taken its lumps in Zone 7 wars and while the program did well against squads from New Britain, Glastonbury, and Hartford, the top of the pack gave Plainville some real nightmares.
Berlin (16-5) won Zone 7 this year but did not qualify for the 2018 Super Regional state tournament to end the month of July.
But RCP (13-8), Tri-County (13-8) and West Hartford (15-6) all qualified with RCP coming just a couple games short of another state title.
And even Tri-County won a Super Regional game from Muzzy Field from Bristol.
Eight teams qualified for the Super Regional and roughly 38-percent of those squads represented Zone 7.
That’s a testament to that zone.
But Plainville, having stayed in Zone 7, would have earned forfeit wins against New Britain as that program folded about a dozen games into the summer.
However, Post 33 wasn’t looking for gift victories in 2018.
In fact, Zone 1 showed a little more parity this season than last with the inclusion of Plainville – despite being short a couple programs.
Avon (16-2) won Zone 1 but back on June 10 from Buckingham Park, Post 33 put up one heck of a fight, losing to the champs 2-1.
And there was a 4-1 loss to Avon on July 7 that Plainville showed some grit in as well.
Bristol (13-5) was the Zone 1 runner-up but in two games against Plainville, Post 2 had slow starts thanks to some excellent pitching by Nate Michalek and Alec Karal.
Post 33 was able to defeat Torrington on June 17 (9-6), hang a 1-0 loss on Wolcott (1-0) in Plainville, earned a huge 5-4 victory over Simsbury on June 27 and ended the campaign with a 3-0 showing over Wolcott on July 8.
Taking two-out-of-three against Wolcott (5-13 in Zone 1) was a big deal for Plainville.
“We won a couple more games than we did last year,” said McCarthy.
The sad thing is Plainville would have done far better in Zone 1 had Unionville and Terryville not closed its programs before the season commenced.
Terryville was dropped by its post a few years ago, eventually folding, and Unionville literally disbanded right as the year began.
Post 33 could have easily taken two-of-three games against both those squads but that’s been the plight for American Legion baseball all over the state as more than a few programs have shut down.
Plainville had a strong core this past summer which was aided by Jaylen Dias and Ryan Rodriguez from Bristol Central – both playing for Post 33 this year.
Jon Olson returned for his final season in an American Legion uniform while the pitching staff – including Tyler Mandeville, Tyler Dufour, Ryan Synder, Alex Grabowski, Karal, and Michalek – all made strides on the mound.
Brady Callahan was a slick leadoff hitter for the program and catcher Juan Camacho showed ability throughout the campaign.
And though Plainville showed ability and potential this season, McCarthy sees the bigger picture for his outfit.
“In the end, it comes to us growing as a program,” said McCarthy. “The players have to get better, coaches, we have to get better. If we continually work to become better, it doesn’t matter what zone we’re in.”
Hopefully, Plainville didn’t get too comfortable in Zone 1 because some big changes are coming down the pike for American Legion baseball in Connecticut.
Due to several squads closing up shop over the last couple years, the number of zones is going to be reduced from eight to six come 2019.
It’s a change that’s necessary as some zones – like Zone 1 – have only seven teams while Zone 6, for example, has 10 strong programs.
It’s an imbalance that will be corrected next season with the six zone set-up and, perhaps, Plainville will fall into a zone that could see the likes of Newington, Bristol, and Meriden while playing crossover games against opponents – in what could be a zone divided by two divisions.
There’s a lot to be excited about for the future of Connecticut American Legion baseball but this past summer, McCarthy and company had a favorable take in its first year in Zone 1.
“I’ve enjoyed my time with the coach’s in Zone 1,” said McCarthy. “So it was a lot of fun.”