By BRIAN JENNINGS
Avon won the first game in the double-elimination series and took an 8-0 lead in the second contest. It seemed as if Avon was on their way to a sweep of Southington to earn a trip to the super regionals in the American Legion baseball 19U state tournament.
However, the rulebook intervened.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Avon’s Jake Coppen replaced Kyle Emry on the mound, and suspicion began to circulate the Southington dugout that Coppen was an ineligible player. Southington coach Marc Verderame brought the attention of rule violation to the umpires.
According to the American Legion Baseball 2017 Rulebook, section D of Rule 6 (Team and Player Certification) states the following:
“The American Legion believes team loyalty is a key ingredient for any team sport. Dual participation shall no way interfere with a player’s responsibility to his American Legion Baseball team. Once department championship tournament play has begun, the department baseball chairman cannot grant permission to participate in other baseball events, baseball tournaments, exhibition games, showcases or combines. Any player missing any game of an American Legion national tournament because he participated in another baseball event, exhibition game, showcase or combine shall be ineligible for post-season tournament play.”
Coppen participated in a pitching showcase and was ruled as an ineligible player by Zone One chairman, Tim Vincent. Therefore, Avon was forced to forfeit the second game of the series.
“He [Coppen] didn’t play in the first game or the first six innings, but they brought him in to pitch, and a rule is a rule,” said Verderame. “We were down 8-0 and you hate to do it, but I had to call them on it. I had to sit my starting left fielder out. He could have done damage in the other game yesterday.”
One of Southington’s players was benched for the remainder of the postseason after pitching in a showcase once the postseason had started, which was where the source of the rule violation came from.
“I told my kids last week that there were no more showcases or other teams,” the coach said. “We actually had a guy go to one that was already paid for, but I got some information that they had a guy out there that was at the same thing.”
Avon had no trouble winning the first game, but the rule violation tied the series, 1-1.
In the first game of the series, both teams mustered just four hits apiece, but it was Avon that made the most of their opportunities with runners on base. Justin Olson drove in Avon’s first run of the game on a fielder’s choice in the third inning, and added another run in the sixth with a RBI triple.
Will Thramann capped off the victory by knocking in a run on a fly ball to the outfield as the next batter after Olson in the sixth. Jonathan Gray went 2-for-3 at the plate.
Bailey Robarge (4-3) started on the mound and was credited with the loss after going five and one-third innings with a strikeout, allowing three hits, three earned runs, and a walk. Justin Verilli (2-0) closed.
Despite the setback in game two, Avon wasn’t affected by the forfeiture and edged Southington, 4-3, in game three. Avon took an early 4-0 advantage, and were able to hold on during Southington’s late comeback.
“In the last three games, Avon executed everything,” said Verderame. “They got the guys over, bunts, and big hits every time. They made most of the plays in the field, especially yesterday. We didn’t execute.”
Dan Topper and Josh Panarella led off the sixth with a pair of base hits, and an out later, Brayden Cooney drew a walk. Jake Babon cut the deficit to three by scoring Topper with a RBI single.
With two outs and two runners on base, Brandon Kohl drove in Panarella and Cooney with a double into the outfield gap, and Verderame gave Babon the green light to score from first as the tying run. However, Babon was thrown out on the relay throw to the plate.
“You have to take chances on them to make the play,” the coach said. “I had the bottom of the order coming up, and they executed a perfect relay all the way from the right field fence, but I’ll take a chance any day.”
A pair of groundouts and a strikeout ended Southington’s season in the seventh. Southington finished with five hits.
“We’ve struggled offensively all year,” said Verderame. “We’re averaging five and a half hits a game. We’ve been scrappy manufacturing, but execution is our whole thing, and we didn’t do it. So, if we’re not going to execute, we’re probably not going to score, and that’s just what happened for the first 18 innings of the series.”
Nick Borkowski (6-1) started on the mound after Connor McDonough (4-1) went all six innings of game two. Borkowski threw a complete game with a strikeout, allowing five hits, three earned runs, and a walk.
“Nick didn’t get many strikeouts, but he hit his spots and pitched a hell of a game,” the coach said. “Just that one inning got to him.”
Although Southington didn’t take advantage of a second opportunity to advance to the super regionals, as Post 72 finished the season at 20-8 overall, Verderame still believed that his team overachieved this summer.
“We knew what we had pitching-wise and knew that we struggled in hitting, but we fought every game by scrapping runs and pitching well,” said Verderame. “It was a roller coaster ride and a challenge, but it was also a great season.”
Avon was reseeded as the top seed in the super regionals of the North Division of the state tournament and is scheduled to play No. 4 West Hartford (19-9). The other North Division contest features No. 2 Waterford (24-6) against No. 3 South Windsor (18-7). Super regionals are to be played at Muzzy Field in Bristol, and championship game is to be played at Palmer Field in Middletown.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2017/07/26/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-july-28-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him atBJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.