Avon Post 201 has made the American Legion baseball playoffs every season at the senior legion level in the past four years.
The team came from behind to beat Oakville 6-4 in the first game of the state tournament, followed by wins over Orange (4-1) and Montville (2-1). After losing to Milford (4-1), who ended up winning the championship, and RCP (3-0), of Rocky Hill, Cromwell and Portland, the team was eliminated.
But head coach Brian Doyle couldn't be prouder given his reservations leading up to the rebuilding season.
"We only had 15 players so everyone contributed," Doyle wrote in an email to Avon Patch. "They loved the game and they worked really hard. They are smart and we tried to learn from mistakes. We had optional practices because we played so many games in so short a time period, but the kids kept showing up en masse. This team improved tremendously as a result."
Several months before the season began, the roster was looking slim as the team lost six of nine starters and four pitchers. Doyle recommended folding the program and combining with Simsbury's legion team at a meeting last October.
Yet the team continued at the request of program president Walt Suski and several board members in anticipation of younger talent rising from Little League.
Despite the odds, the 19-and-under team exceeded Doyle's goal of a .500 season to place third in its zone (24-10) – 19-8 in the regular season and 5-2 in the playoffs. They also swept Bristol at Muzzy Field in June and beat their rival all three times they faced off on the baseball diamond.
In many cases, it was the team's pitching that "kept Avon in the game," The Collinsville Press reported.
"Our strength was our defense and pitching," Doyle said. "We were not an especially great hitting team but we competed at the plate and forced teams to make plays."
The boys advanced to the state tournament after defeating Tri Country (4-1) and coming back from a 4-0 deficit against Middletown late in the game to win 6-4 in the 12th inning.
Last year, the team came in second in its zone, defeating Monroe to advance to the state tournament. The boys lost to Middletown (3-1) and Branford (2-1), but Doyle said that was the program's best season (21-9)
Avon parents Dave Beaulieu, Charlie Dew, Ron Biffinger, Jon Papa and Chris Moore were all integral to getting the team off the ground five years ago at the junior legion level and drumming up a roster, Doyle said.
His son, Connor, a second baseman and pitcher, has been on the team four years. This season was his last as he heads to Connecticut College to play hockey in the fall. He pitched four shutout innings in the win over Middletown and earned two saves against Bristol.
He was a co-captain with Liam O'Connor, who has been with the team for three years and will return to the team next summer after playing at Brandeis. Doyle praised captains' leadership and rising (AOF) senior Mike Castellani's performance.
"Mike Castellani developed into the best left handed pitcher in the state. He pitched a lot for us. Without Mike we don't win nearly as much," Brian Doyle said.
Noah Hahn, Matt Koenig and his other son, Cody Doyle also had strong seasons, as did many other players, Doyle said.
"This summer was so much fun," Cody Doyle, a rising AOF junior, wrote in an email to Avon Patch. "We had a great team and everyone was committed. As a group we put the team first always. I think that our chemistry gave us an advantage over other teams who often drew from multiple towns. This is the most fun I have ever had playing baseball. I am really proud of my teammates and what we accomplished."
Hard work, not luck, is to thank for a strong season, Brian Doyle said. At the beginning of each year, he challenged the players to push to their "ceilings."
"More than any team I have been a part of, this team maximized their potential," Doyle said. "I mean come on – we played against teams that draw from 3-4 high school varsity teams. Avon is a small town. But we had chemistry, leadership, solid pitching and we played very good defense. In the end – this team was an absolute joy to coach."
Congratulations to American Post 201 team!:
- Mike Castellani (pitcher)
- Connor Doyle (second base, pitcher)
- Liam O’Connor (center field, pitcher)
- Cody Doyle (catcher)
- Noah Hahn (shortstop, pitcher)
- Matt Koenig (third and second base, pitcher)
- Nick Sanderson (third base, short stop)
- George Nurrisso (first base)
- Ben Lombard (right field)
- Jake Bryant (outfielder, first base)
- Dan Sheiker (outfielder)
- Brandon Feinberg (pitcher)
- Matt Williamson (outfielder)
- Zach Davis (pitcher, outfield)
- Sean Smith (pitcher)