Greenwich senior legion pushing hard to postseason

Greenwich senior legion head coach Mike Abate watches his team in the field during a recent game. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich senior legion head coach Mike Abate watches his team in the field during a recent game. — Paul Silverfarb photo

If the Greenwich American Legion Senior Cannons are going to be contenders in the upcoming state tournament, they are certainly going to get a gauge on how they’ll fare after completing their remaining schedule.

“I think one through five is really tough,” Greenwich head coach Mike Abate said. “Stamford, Trumbull, Norwalk, Westport and us are all really good. Darien is also a really tough team. I tell these guys that I firmly believe that we are the only team that can beat us. When we stay out of our own way, I think we can compete with anybody in the zone and in the state. We just need to play good quality baseball and come out ready to play.”

With only a handful games remaining in the American Legion regular season, Greenwich is currently sitting in third place in Zone IV with a 14-6 record, whNorwalk are tied for third place in Zone IV with a 13-6 record as of press time.

“I feel like we are playing well,” starting pitcher Kyle Dunster said. “It’s exciting to be in the playoff hunt. There are four teams fighting for second place and all four are not far behind Stamford. It should be fun. We need to play like we have been, which is with solid pitching and good defense.”

With four losses, Trumbull holds the second spot in the zone, while Stamford is leading Zone IV with only two losses.

Right next to Greenwich is Westport with a 14-7 record and Norwalk with its 13-7 overall record.

That’s where things get interesting for Greenwich. Yesterday at Trumbull High School, the Cannons started a home-and-home with Trumbull. After beating Trumbull 2-1 in eight innings yesterday afternoon at Trumbull High School, Greenwich is home today at Julian Curtis for the second game of the series.

After a day off tomorrow, it’s a huge three-game weekend series with Norwalk Post 12. The doubleheader on Saturday will be played at the Norwalk City Hall baseball field starting at 9 a.m., while Sunday’s game will be played at Greenwich High School starting at 10 a.m.

On Tuesday, Greenwich will return to Julian Curtis to finish off the remainder of its postponed game against Darien/New Canaan and will play its scheduled game immediately after.

The Cannons finish up their regular season next Friday with a huge contest against Trumbull High School.

“We don’t look at who we are playing any differently,” shortstop Ricky Okazaki said. “We have to play our game. We are a team that beats ourselves rather than by another team. I think we can definitely do better, but everybody is picking each other up and that’s the most important part.”

“It’s going to be a crazy finish, but all we want to do is put ourselves in position to make a nice run in the state tournament,” coach Abate said. “I’m happy nailing it down mathematically that we made the playoffs, but we’ve been there a few times and we have to put ourselves in position to have success. The less games you have to play in the playoffs, the better it is.”

In order to survive the next two weeks, Greenwich will be relying on its strengths, such as defense and pitching. However, Abate knows his team needs to improve on limiting the number of mistakes on the bases and the team’s overall approach at the plate.

“I think over the next week is very crucial for us to see where we pan out when it comes to states,” Abate said. “We need to be able to put the ball in play when we are facing that overpowering pitcher. We are going to take it one game at a time and start to play Cannon baseball, which is the right style of baseball. We need to do the little things, get the timely hits, get productive outs and have our pitchers throw strikes.”

With a crazy schedule that sees all American Legion teams playing 27 games in less than two months, currently sitting on a stretch where Greenwich hasn’t played a lot of games is music to the ears of Abate and the Cannons. Before yesterday’s game against Trumbull, the last game Greenwich played was its game against Darien/New Canaan on July 1.

And the break in the action couldn’t have come at a better time for Abate. In their last five games played before press time, Greenwich went 1-4. In a battle against Stamford, the top two teams at the time in Zone IV, the Cannons were swept. Greenwich followed that up with a 6-2 loss against Ridgefield back on June 30.

In all three of the losses against Stamford, it wasn’t like Greenwich wasn’t in any of the three games. Two of the three were one-loss games, while the other had Stamford winning 3-1.

“It was a little frustrating for us, but we’ve also been on the other side of that at times,” Abate said. “Stamford has a great team and is one of the better teams in the state. We came ready to play and battled, but that’s baseball. We just couldn’t get the timely hits and score those runners in. We had those opportunities, but I like the way the kids came to play, both pitching and defensively. We just didn’t get the hits when we needed it. I was still proud of the way that we played.”

However, the senior Cannons got back to their winning ways to start July, beating the Darien/New Canaan combined team 8-5.

“I think we are pretty solid right now,” Okazaki said. “I know that we put ourselves in a tough spot losing a couple of games in a row, but honestly I’m not really nervous about it. I think we will turn it around and play our game.”

As expected, pitchers Kyle Dunster and JT Hintzen have been dominating the competition.

“We have a really deep pitching staff,” Dunster said. “With JT, Hunter Frantz, Jon Mikalopas, Mike Marzonie and Mike Genaro, we are all pitching really well. Having those guys there is a big relief for whoever is starting on that day. It’s nice to know that all our pitchers can get the job done.”

However, other hurlers for Greenwich like Michael Genaro and Michael Marzonie have been keeping batters off-balance.

“Whether it’s game one or game four, I would have no problem throwing any one of those four guys out there,” Abate said. “They are all really strong and they know what it takes to get the job done. I am confident in all four of them.”

With the pitchers working hard during the final stretch of the season, it’s more important than ever for the defense to play at the top of its game.

“If we kick the ball around and give away outs, the pitchers are working harder and more than they have to,” Abate said. “It’s easy when the pitchers are in their flow and the defense is playing right and are making the plays.”

While there is still room for improvement for Greenwich, Abate wants his team to be confident in the final week leading up to the state tournament.

“We need to continue to get better and play with confidence,” Abate said. “We know how to win and expect to win. We have a winning tradition here, but it’s all about those younger guys stepping up and understanding that. We also need some guys to go into a leadership role and I think that is coming along. Basically this team is going to go as far as they want to go. Hopefully it’s going to be a special run.”

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