Greenwich Junior Cannons hoping to write a new ending to a familiar story

The Greenwich Junior Cannons will start play in the Southern Division Sectionals Saturday at noon against Wallingford. — Paul Silverfarb photo

The Greenwich Junior Cannons will start play in the Southern Division Sectionals Saturday at noon against Wallingford. — Paul Silverfarb photo

While the story of the Greenwich American Legion junior Cannons regular season is like deja vu for head coach Sam Abdelwahab, this time around he’s hoping for a longer stay in the postseason.

For the past two seasons, the Cannons have needed a lift in the closing weeks of the season and in both seasons Greenwich ended strong to finish the regular season 17-0. This time around, Abdelwahab is hoping his team could play more than two games in the playoffs.

Starting Saturday at noon, the Junior Cannons will start play in the Southern Division Sectionals of postseason, a single-elimination format, and will take on Wallingford at Greenwich High School. If Greenwich wins that game, they will play Orange on Sunday.

“Obviously we are going to be facing some really tough competition,” Greenwich starting pitcher Hunter Frantz said. “The intensity is always high for single-elimination games, but we have known all year that we probably play in the toughest zone in the state. We have faced the toughest teams and we know we can play with any one on any given day. I think this team could beat any team in the state if we play the way that we are capable of.”

The winner of the Sunday game will take on Norwalk, the champions of Zone IV, on Monday for the right to play in Bethel for the final eight double-elimination state tournament.

“While it would be nice to be one of the eight teams left, we are only focusing on Wallingford right now,” Abdelwahab said. “They are going to throw their ace and they are coming out of a tough zone. They didn’t get here accidentally, so we are definitely focused on them. We also have Norwalk in our bracket, so you can’t assume anything when the best team in your zone is in the bracket. We are going to come out Saturday, give it the best that we got and see where the chips fall.”

In order to be successful this postseason, Abdelwahab said that his team needs to be able to do the little things perfectly.

“I expect us to be able to do that in every game we play,” Abdelwahab said. “Whether it’s playing defense, throwing strikes, moving runners over, stealing bases and not making mental mistakes. If we are able to eliminate those, I think we will do really well.”

Like last season, this year’s start to the regular season was up and down early. Although Greenwich started the season with a 3-1 record, they quickly fell to 3-4 with two tough losses to Fairfield and another hard-fought defeat to Stamford. From there, the junior Cannons went to to upend Wilton and Trumbull once and Bridgeport twice and netted a 7-4 record.

Although Greenwich fell close to .500 heading towards the home stretch of the season, the team’s never-say-die attitude was able to pull though. The Cannons won seven out of their last eight games and took a 17-10 record to the postseason, the same record that Greenwich entered the postseason with last year.

“We had a bunch of losses early on that were only one- or two-point losses and those could easily wear on a team, but we had some good senior leadership on this team and they kind of helped steer us in the right direction,” Abdelwahab said. “We finished really strong. We knew what we needed to do and won a bunch of big games. We beat Norwalk, who won the Zone and beat Trumbull, who came in second in the Zone, twice.”

Now that the Cannons are in the postseason, Abdelwahab needs his entire squad to step it up a notch.

Leading the way for Greenwich will be its pitching staff, which has been light’s out all season. Hunter Frantz has been in a lot of big games for Greenwich this season and will be on the mound for the team to start the postseason run.

“He’s been big all year,” Abdelwahab said. “Regardless of what kind of stuff he has, he always finds a way to keep us in the game. That’s all you can ask for an ace, to make sure he can keep you in a game so the offense can get the chance to back him up.”

In addition, Nick Vigliano, Mike Marzonie, Conor Langan and Keigo Fujikura will also be called upon to pitch this postseason.

“They are all battle-tested, all rested and all ready to go for us,” Abdelwahab said. “We believe that we play in the toughest zone in the state, but we also know that every team is capable of having that one good pitcher who can shut us down. That’s why our pitching is so important. They need to keep us in the game and I think they can definitely do that.”

While the Junior Cannons play a solid team defense, Abdelwahab is thrilled with the way his players up the middle of the field have been handling things. Will Salomon and Sean Marks are both stellar behind the plate, both call a good game and have strong arms to shut down the opposing team’s running game.

In the infield, not a lot of balls have gotten away from the combo of Mike Marzonie and Alex Loparco at second base and shortstop. In center field, Fujikura has been quick to get to the ball every time it’s hit to the outfield.

“Those guys track down as much as you could ask for from a team,” Abdelwahab said. “Everything starts up the middle and those guys are the best at what they do. Everybody else builds around them, whether it’s Justin Gaccione or Dillon Daine at first base, Hunter (Frantz) at third or Nick Vigliano or Colin Kelly in left. They are all capable of making a play.”

One of Greenwich’s biggest improvements has been its offense. While the Cannons have several big bats in the lineup, it’s the small ball that has helped push Greenwich over the top.

“The emphasis on the team is on situational hitting, moving the runners over, as well as good base running,” Abdelwahab said. “When that happens, balls seem to find the holes and we tend to be more successful. That has been paying off, especially down the final stretch of the season.”

Despite the outcome of the postseason, Frantz said he could easily see the improvement in the team since they started a month ago.

“We had a pretty good year this year,” pitcher Hunter Frantz said. “We are a young team with a couple of veterans that have been here for a few years. There has been a lot of good leadership from those veterans and a lot of good play from the younger guys on the team who have stepped up. It’s a nice mix.”

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