Greenwich Junior legion travels to Tolland for state tourney Saturday

Talking about catching fire at the right time.

Two-thirds through the junior legion season, the Greenwich Cannons were consistently hovering around the .500 mark and the possibility of qualifying for a state tournament was still up in the air. Heading into their game on July 8 against Wilton, Greenwich was 10-9 overall and were in the middle of the pack in Zone IV.

However, the month of July was quite friendly to the junior Cannons. Winning all but one game, Greenwich beat top Zone IV teams like Stamford, Trumbull and Norwalk. Pitcher Will O’Brien started the streak in commanding fashion, hurling a no-hitter in Greenwich’s 2-1 victory over Wilton. The wins kept piling up and the junior Cannons finally reached one of its goals by qualifying for the American Legion state tournament.

“We had a great finish,” Greenwich head coach Sam Abdelwahab said. “It got to the point where every game was a must-win for us, especially after we dropped a game to Ridgefield with nine games to go. Will O’Brien’s no-hitter got us going with the first of seven straight victories. In those games we beat every team that was ahead of us. It was good to get us in and also good for our confidence.”

Greenwich will start play in the state tournament Saturday at noon, when the No. 17 seeded Cannons travel up to No. 16 Tolland. Tolland took second in Zone VIII this season, finishing 12-9 overall. The winner of that game will then travel to top-seeded Branford for a game Sunday afternoon at 1. Branford finished its season the Zone II champions, grabbing a 22-3 overall record and finishing as the top team in the state.

With Greenwich’s blistering finish to the regular season, Abdelwahab is hoping that the momentum carries over to the state tournament.

“We have been preaching to our kids that they’ve beaten really good teams and we’ve seen that you could lose to anybody,” Abdelwahab said. “During our run, we were one inning away from losing to Bridgeport. We know that we have to be on our game all the time. Our run helps us in two ways because it gives us confidence that we could play with every team, as long as we play our style of baseball and it also shows us that if we come out flat, any team could jump on us.”

During Greenwich’s recent run, the pitching has been light’s out. In 10 games, the Greenwich pitchers threw eight complete games and hardly walked batters. Greenwich’s ace and big-game pitcher, O’Brien, will start Saturday’s game against Tolland. Joining O’Brien on the mound will be Hunter Frantz, who also has his fair share of quality pitching performances this year, beating Stamford, Ridgefield and Norwalk this season. Keigo Fujikura, who beat Stamford and Bridgeport for the junior Cannons, will be the third starter in the postseason.

“They all throw strikes and keep the team in the game,” Abdelwahab said. “They are all very good at what they do. When you’re doing that, the defense is in the game and the offense has a lot less pressure on them because they feel like they don’t have to get 10 runs every time. They know if they score a few runs, that will be enough.”

Offensively, Greenwich is getting a lot of guys on base and is scoring runs when it matters. Although Abdelwahab said that his team has hit a rough patch where they are having problems driving in runs with two outs, he’s still confident. Leading the way offensively will be Evan Jonokuchi, Billy O’Malley.”

Greenwich also is getting a lot of help from its defense. Zach Monick in center has been tracking down nearly every ball that’s hit his way. Frantz has also been stellar at the hot corner.

While Abdelwahab likes his team’s chances in the postseason, he knows not to look ahead.

“I know it’s cliché, but we really do take it one game at a time,” Abdelwahab said. “I believe that if we go out and give 100%, we’re going to be really tough to beat. We need to be focused and play hard throughout the tournament, but we also need to take it one game at a time.”

 

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