Greenwich Junior Legion ready for redemption

Greenwich junior legion starting pitcher Keigo Fujikura delivers the ball to the plate during Saturday’s game at Seaside Park in Bridgeport. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich junior legion starting pitcher Keigo Fujikura delivers the ball to the plate during Saturday’s game at Seaside Park in Bridgeport. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Still with a bitter taste in their mouths from the way last season ended, the Greenwich Junior American Legion Cannons are back this year with a vengeance, looking to bring the state championship back to Post 29.

“Last year we finished pretty strong and had a good run in the playoffs and the returning players came back this year hungrier because they saw that we can compete with teams that people consider the best teams in the state,” Greenwich head coach Sam Abdelwahab. “Our zone is typically the toughest in the state and I think this year is no different. Stamford is the regional champions and Trumbull is always tough.”

After beating Tolland 4-0 in the opening round of the state tournament, the junior Cannons traveled to top-seeded Branford and gave them everything they had, but fell 3-2 in nine innings. In that game, Greenwich’s pitching was lights out; however, the situational hitting wasn’t the greatest and Branford was able to capitalize late in the game.

“This year everybody here came back a little more focused on doing the little things,” Abdelwahab said. “If you do the little things correct, you’re going to win games more often than not. I think we are good enough to win the zone and I think we are good enough to go as far as we want to go if we play to our capabilities. I think the talent is here, whether it’s offensively, defensively or on the mound, but it depends on how quickly we come together and how much attention to detail we work on.”

This year, one of Greenwich’s biggest strengths will be on the mound. The go-to guy for Greenwich this season has been Hunter Frantz, with Nick Vigliano not far behind.

“They are our two aces,” Adbelwahab said. “What Hunter and Nick do that’s as good as anyone in the area is that they pound the strike zone and throw strikes. Hunter throws a little harder and is more of a bulldog. Even when he doesn’t have his stuff, you know he’s going to go deep into the game. He hates being taken out of the game. Nick hits his spots on all his pitches and has amazing control of the ball. In an earlier game this year Nick went six innings and only threw 47 pitches. He gets the ball over the plate and lets the defense go to work for him. He also works quickly, so everybody’s constantly in the game. To have two guys like that, you can’t ask for more.”

Joining the duo of Vigliano and Frantz will be returning hurler Keigo Fujikura. Newcomers to the pitching staff will be John Adimari, Gunnar Groen and Mike Marzonie.

“We are lucky because we have such a deep pitching staff,” Abdelwahab said. “It’s probably the deepest we’ve had in this program in several years. For a team to have five or six guys who I could call on with confidence every day, that’s a great problem for a coach to have.”

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Mike Marzonie steps to the plate during Saturday’s game at Seaside Park in Bridgeport. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Right now, the Junior Cannons are going with a close-by-committee. Marzonie, Conor Langan and Sean Marks are possible closers for the team when they get deeper into the season and are in playoff mode.

“Right now I have so much confidence in my pitching that I think anybody can close a game for us,” Abdelwahab said. “I think ideally you’re going to have a guy that throws a little harder close the game. That’s where you get Marks and Marzonie.”

While the pitching is strong, don’t overlook the Greenwich defense. When Frantz isn’t on the mound dominating the opposition, he will be patrolling the hot corner. Playing shortstop will be Marzonie, while Alex Loparco will be at second base. Playing first base will be Justin Gaccione, but Dillon Daine will get time at first base as well.
In the outfield, Fujikura will be playing left field with Colin Kelly at center.

“Both are natural shortstops, but we are able to have two natural shortstops playing the outfield because of the athleticism that they have.  When you have situations like that and you could put guys out there and they have the kind of an infielder knowing where the play should be and knowing where the cutoff man should be, it’s a great thing.”

At right will be a mix of Tom Liu, Marks and Vigliano.

Behind the plate, Greenwich had a strong duo, as Marks and Will Solomon have incredible arms and are great at shutting down the opposing team’s running game.

“Stopping the running game will make life a lot easier for everybody else,” Abdelwahab said. “They know how to catch, but because they have such good arms, teams will try to steal once, we will throw them out and they won’t even try any more.”

For Abdelwahab, having such a strong defense and pitching will go a long way in Zone IV.

“When you play in a wood bat league, you know you’re never out of a game because the pitching and defense will win or lose a ballgame,” Abdelwahab said. “When you do the little things correct in this league, you always have a shot to win. Doing things correctly, like slowing down their running game, throwing strikes and making routine plays on defense, you know that if you hang around long enough and swing the bats like we’re capable of, good things are bound to happen.”

Offensively the Junior Cannons will have a mix of speed and muscle. At the top of the lineup will be Fujikura and Loparco, both speedy runners and both line drive hitters. Fujikura and Loparco set the table for Solomon and Marzonie, Greenwich’s main  threat to hit the ball well over the outfield wall.

“Our secret isn’t really a secret at all,” Abdelwahab said. “We want to get as many guys on as possible for Will and Mike. What also has been pleasant has been the bat of Dillon Daine and Justin Gaccione. Those two have two totally different amounts of experience and are both producing behind our two big guys. Teams can’t really pitch around Will and Mike because they are going to pay down the road.

Greenwich Junior Legion's Justin Gaccione charges towards home plate during Saturday's game at Bridgeport. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich Junior Legion’s Justin Gaccione charges towards home plate during Saturday’s game at Bridgeport. — Paul Silverfarb photo

“Colin and Nick are big for us at the bottom of the lineup because they are really doing a nice job setting the tone for the top of the order again,” added Abdelwahab. “It’s a good lineup overall. I don’t think we have any automatic outs and we have guys that are capable of making a lot of contact. As long as we are putting ourselves in position to have good at bats, anything can happen.”

While Abdelwahab wants his team to continue to pitch well and play solid defense, offensively he wants his team to put together good at bats.

“We need to get a consistency there,” Abdelwahab said. “As long as we improve on that, our offense will show what it’s capable of. Obviously you have days where you hit the ball really well or run into a really good pitcher, but if you put together the right mentality when you’re hitting, good things will happen. We want to get to the plate with an idea of what we want to do. We don’t want the pitcher to dictate the at bat.”

As of press time, Greenwich Junior Legion has a 8-4 record on the season and only sits 1.5 games out of first place. They will be back in action later on today when they travel to Norwalk City Hall for a game against Norwalk.

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