Greenwich junior Cannons charging toward postseason

Although the Greenwich American Legion junior Cannons didn’t start the season off the way they hoped, first-year head coach Sam Abdelwahab has the team battling to qualify for the state tournament.

With 22 games played, Greenwich needs 15 victories to qualify for the American Legion state tournament and currently sits with a 13-9 record on the season.

“We want those 15 wins and I think it’s well within our reach,” Abdelwahab said. “We’re playing really good team baseball and that’s exactly what you want to see from your team this late in the season. Everybody is really focused on winning the inning, getting the next run, making the next play and rooting for each other. That’s the sign of a good team and I am looking forward to this week to see if we could continue to make a run.”

Today at 5:30 p.m., Greenwich will host rivals Stamford at Havermeyer Field. The junior Cannons finish off the week traveling to Staples High School and will play a doubleheader Saturday starting at 9 against Westport.

After Greenwich got a huge 4-3 victory over Trumbull on Tuesday, they got all they could handle from a gritty Bridgeport team Monday. Scoring twice in both the first and seventh innings and once in the sixth, Greenwich was able to hold on and come away with the 4-2 victory.

“It was a dogfight,” Abdelwahab said. “I told them that after yesterday’s win, we can’t assume anything and need. We had our backs to the wall, but at the end of the day, when we needed to make a play, we did. I’m proud of them.”

In the top of the first, Greenwich scored twice. With one out, Zach Monick started the rally with a single and stole second. Billy O’Malley came up next and drew a walk. With Nick Bancroft at the plate, a wild pitch by Bridgeport advanced Monick to third and O’Malley stole second. Bancroft then drove home the first run on a sacrifice to right that plated Monick and moved O’Malley to third. Giancarlo Pochintesta was up next, reached base on an error and O’Malley came home on the play to give the junior Cannons a 2-0 lead.

Although Bancroft came around to score in the sixth inning after he started the frame with a double, Bridgeport plated two runners in the bottom of the sixth to knot the score at 3-3.Unfazed, Greenwich came roaring back in the top of the seventh. Evan Jonokuchi started the inning with a hard double and came around to score when Monick hit a perfectly-placed bunt to third base that forced an error on the throw to first.

O’Malley’s single to right easily drove home Monick and gave Greenwich the 4-2 win.

“Evan is my leadoff hitter and he’s been doing a great job for me all year,” Abdelwahab said. “He made a routine base hit and turned it into a double because of how he hustled out of the box. Monick then bunted and it changed everything. We have a lot of team speed and when we’re aggressive, we force other teams into making errors. I told the kids that if we can do that, we’ll be in every game.”

Although Greenwich was short on pitchers for the game, Keigo Fujikura stepped to the mound for the first time in over a month and was solid, giving up three hits while striking out seven and walking two batters.

While Monday’s performance was crucial, if the Cannons make the state tournament, it will be Sunday’s game that highlights their playoff push. On Sunday afternoon, Greenwich was in the midst of a two-game losing streak, falling to Trumbull 4-3 and then to Ridgefield 3-0. However, when it mattered most, starting pitcher Will O’Brien stepped up in a big way.

With the Greenwich junior Cannons fighting for a spot in the upcoming Connecticut American Legion junior state tournament, the Greenwich starting pitcher took to the mound Sunday against Wilton and had a game he’ll never forget, tossing a no-hitter and helping the Cannons win the game 2-1.

“It was a great game for Will, but it was a game that we really needed,” Abdelwahab said. “We were coming off two straight losses and are making a push for the playoffs. The team really stepped up against Wilton. We only got three hits, so Will needed to be on top of his game. That’s exactly what happened. He made a statement and stepped up like we expected him to do.”

In seven innings, O’Brien struck out 10 and only walked four batters. He led off the game walking the Wilton leadoff hitter, but finished his no-hit bid in style, striking out the side to secure the victory.

“He always has a good fastball, but coach Tim Daly and I commented that his fastball was especially live today,” Abdelwahab said. “He was also throwing his curveball for strikes during any count, so that made him virtually impossible to hit. Will had a great week. He celebrated his 16th birthday on Monday by pitching and getting a win for us. He’s a great leader because he never complains and does what we ask. When he’s not pitching, he’s cheering for everybody else. I’m really happy for him and it’s great to see a kid like that step up like that.”

Greenwich started the game by scoring a run in the first inning. Evan Jonokuchi got things rolling by drawing a walk and stealing second base. He then advanced to third base on a Wilton wild pitch and came around to score when Billy O’Malley launched a sacrifice fly.

Just like they did in the first inning, the junior Cannons manufactured another run in the sixth inning. Nick Bancroft started the ball rolling by reaching base on an error and immediately stole second base. After swiping third base, Bancroft netted the go-ahead run when catcher Max Barefoot smacked a single.

In addition to catching O’Brien’s no-hitter, Barefoot netted two of the three hits that Greenwich had on the day.

Keeping the no-hitter in tact, Hunter Frantz had a play for the highlight reel for Greenwich. In the sixth inning Wilton had the game-tying runner on base, Frantz made a diving stop and tagged the runner out to end the threat.

“Our defense played well and we made every play that we needed to,” Abdelwahab said. “As it seems with every no hitter, there’s one play that stands out and that was the case today with Hunter. He made a great play and was something that really picked up the team.”

Throughout the season, the junior Cannons have been firing on all cylinders on all aspects of the game.

While O’Brien has been light’s out on the mound for the junior Cannons this season, Greenwich has been also relying on Frantz, when he’s not patrolling the hot corner. Kyle Dunster and Nick Vigliano have also been throwing a plethora of strikes this season.

“Those guys are very reliable and I am confident with them every time they take the ball,” Abdelwahab said. “They stay within themselves. They focus on throwing strikes, getting ahead early , expand later on in the count and let their defense do their work. You tell them once and they do it right away and that’s great for a coach to have. They have kept us in every game.”

Defensively, the duo of Jonokuchi in right field and Monick in center have been playing tremendously. In the infield, Frantz at third, shortstop O’Malley and first baseman Michaelangelo Federici have been light’s out.

“Any time you can get a good center fielder, a good catcher and a good shortstop, you have a chance to win every night,” Abdelwahab said.

Behind the plate, the combination of Sean Marks and Max Barefoot have been the silent heroes of the team.

“They go out there every day and focus on doing their job,” Abdelwahab said. “It’s 100 degrees and they are still throwing runners out and making all the plays behind the plate.”

When it comes to offensive production, Abdelwahab looks to Jonokuchi, Federici, O’Malley and Bancroft to come up big for the junior Cannons.

“It’s obviously a team effort, but there are some guys that always seem to find themselves in the middle of rallies and it’s usually those guys,” Abdelwahab said. “Michaelangelo is leading the team in hits and is having a great year for us. Evan has been in a lot of different situations. He’s been batting leadoff and batting cleanup and everywhere we put him, he always finds his way on base.”

With the end of the regular season quickly approaching, Abdelwahab said he would have liked to have a few more wins under his belt, however he’s not complaining about the team’s effort from the start.

“Our goal is to be in contention for the Zone and make the playoffs,” Abdelwahab said. “Obviously we would have liked a few more wins, but at the end of the day if someone would tell me that we would be going into the last two weeks of the season with a good chance to make the postseason, that’s all you could ask for.”


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