Greenwich Senior Legion Cannons reload, seek another deep playoff push

Greenwich American Legion Senior Cannon pitcher Kyle Dunster fires the ball to the plate during last year’s state tournament at Muzzy Field. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich American Legion Senior Cannon pitcher Kyle Dunster fires the ball to the plate during last year’s state tournament at Muzzy Field. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Last year the Greenwich Cannons American Legion baseball team had plenty of high hopes. They were primed for a deep playoff run, which has dreams of a state championship and an appearance in the regional tournament.

Last season, the Cannons finished the regular season with a 25-2 record and won Zone IV by five games. In the American Legion state tournament the Cannons were losing to Oakville 3-0 before scoring five times in the sixth inning and once more in the seventh to stun Oakville 6-3 and advance to the semifinals.

However, that’s where Greenwich’s luck ran out, as the combined team from Rocky Hill, Cromwell and Portland (RCP) upended the Cannons in the state tournament 7-5 to end the season a few games short.

Greenwich finished the season 29-4 overall, but Greenwich head coach Mike Abate and the rest of the Cannons left Muzzy Field in Bristol with a bitter taste in their mouths.

“I think they are excited to be back this year,” Abate said. “Obviously their high school season didn’t end well and Greenwich High didn’t finish the way they were hoping to, and the same with Brunswick, but you turn the page and this team has a lot of guys that are coming back that are really looking forward to the season. Hopefully we could finish the job this year.”

Once again this year, Greenwich will be relying on its stellar pitching and outstanding defense to lead the way.

“This team has been so successful because our pitchers lead the way and our defense is key,” Abate said. “I think when you have that mix of pitching and defense, you’re going to have the chance to win a lot of games.”

Greenwich’s pitching rotation will consist of Dylan Callahan, Ryan Marks, Kyle Dunster, Bradley Wilpon and Will O’Brien. As of now, the Cannons will be going with a closer-by-committee, but when it gets close to a possible post-season appearance, Abate will think about putting an athlete in that role.

“They are going to have a lot of opportunities to win some big games for us,” Abate said. “They’ve all been in big games before, whether it was for the legion team, at Greenwich High, at Brunswick or at the college level. They all know how to pitch and they battle. They throw strikes and that’s exactly what you want from your guys. They can lead a team to victory.”

The Greenwich pitchers have been dominating the competition throughout the past several years and it has been the defense backing them up. This year will be no exception for Post 29.

“It’s nice to know that when you pitch for this team, you don’t have to strike out everybody,” Abate said. “They have a great defense behind them and will do whatever it takes to get out of the inning, whether it’s turning double plays or making that diving stop.”

The defense will once again

be a strong point for Greenwich. Cameron Fennell will be playing the hot corner for the Cannons, while Callahan will be at short when he’s not on the mound. Ricky Okazaki will be the Cannons’ catcher this season, but will also switch over to shortstop when Callahan is on the bump. Backing up Okazaki will be John Dreher, who had a breakout season this spring with Greenwich High School.

Also returning to Post 29 this season will be Matt Pruner, who was stellar for the team at second base last year. At first will be newcomer Nick Kono, who was Brunswick School’s big man with the bat.

“They are all amazing,” Abate said. “They have gotten us out of so many potentially big innings because of their fielding and because they knock balls down and turn double plays. Basically when any ball is on the ground, it’s going to get picked. That’s a tremendous asset to have on a team.”

Leading the way in the outfield will be right fielder Taylor Olmstead, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball draft. When not on the mound, Dunster will be patrolling the outfield as well. Nick Bancroft will be in left field, along with Zack Monick.

Billy O’Malley and Ryan Hardin, both students from Brunswick School, will be in the outfield too, but could also be put anywhere in the field and Abate’s team won’t miss a beat.

When it comes to Greenwich’s defense this season, Abate shouldn’t be concerned in the slightest.

“A lot of the reason we win is because of all the talent we have, especially in the field,” Abate said. “You need the horses to win the race and this team has those horses. They all know how to play the game. We have the talent, but we also know how to do the little things and make those adjustments. We need to really work on that more if we are going to be as successful I think we can be.”

When it comes to offense, the Cannons have both strength and speed. Callahan, who is a threat anywhere along the base path, will lead off. In addition to Callahan, Hardin and O’Malley are also threats to steal bases at any given time. The middle of the lineup will consist of Olmstead, Fennell, Okazaki and Kono.

While the Cannons are impressive in all aspects of the game, Abate knows there’s still room for improvement.

“I think the little things need to be worked on more,” Abate said. “The talent is there, but we need to be able to get the runner over, getting down a bunt. We also need that family atmosphere on the team. If one guy doesn’t do the job, the guy behind him picks it up and that’s what it’s going to take to win.”

Just like last year, Greenwich’s goals haven’t changed. Abate still hopes the team will capture the Zone IV championship again and then get back to the state championship.

“This team wants to get the state championship and play in regionals,” Abate said. “In the last year we came up a game short, losing in the semifinals. I think the talent is there, so it’s all about how the team gels. They’ve been playing together for years now and they’ve been playing so good for so long. They’ve won a lot of games.”

As of press time, Greenwich holds a 4-1 regular season record, with its only loss coming at the hands of Stamford on Saturday afternoon 5-4.

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