The senior West Hartford Post 96 American Legion team heads into the state tournament with a perfect record and a respect for the program and its legacy.

The players are announced before the game at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Photo credit: Craig Rosenberg

By Meghan Morhardt

On Wednesday night, the 19U West Hartford Post 96 American Legion team became the first team in city history to finish the regular season with a perfect record.

The team, coached by former Post 96 student Sean McCann, cruised to a 9-8 win over Meriden on July 13, holding off a late seventh-inning three-run push. Finishing with a 16-0 record, West Hartford won the Zone 1 championship for the first time since 2015 and will have at least three home games in the state tournament.

Regarding the tournament, McCann said it was important to recognize the work the team has put in throughout the season to be in this position, with several standout players leading the group along the way.

Hall 2022 graduate Joe Dooley showed strong production on both sides of the ball. The University of Hartford commitment is 4-0 on the mound with a 2.07 ERA and a team-high 32 strikeouts to go along with a .480 batting average and 24 hits.

Joe Dooley pitches against Tri-County. Photo credit: Craig Rosenberg

Dooley is one of six players at bat over .350, showing just how productive the offense has been, averaging nearly eight runs per game. Along with Dooley, fellow 2022 Hall graduates Tucker Redden and Tommy LaSpada dominated behind the plate. Redden is batting .381 on 24 hits and 13 RBIs, while LaSpada, who signed up at Westfield State, leads the team with 20 RBIs.

Leading the defense is Lucas Pyrro who is 5-0 with an impressive .600 ERA and 16 strikeouts. Dooley and Conard senior Brendan Grady pull the majority of the remaining weight on the mound. As McCann called them, the “workhorses of the pitching staff” helped the team limit opponents to 3.5 points per game.

Brendan Grady throws at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Photo credit: Craig Rosenberg

Along with the abundance of talent, the players have relied on their chemistry and dedication this season. Most of the players have summer jobs or play other sports, but they still show up every day. Because they love the game. Because they love their team.

“I really think our strength is our chemistry,” McCann said. “This game is a game of chess. So if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it can really implode on you. Our chemistry has kept us strong through good times and bad and I think that makes us dangerous going forward.

That chemistry can be hard to develop with a Legion group like this, especially in a city like West Hartford. With the unique aspect of having two high schools, with such an intense rivalry between the two, and the addition of a freshman to the roster, there can be a natural disconnect between players. But these obstacles haven’t stopped this group from relying on accountability to build trust.

David Cantarella and Ixael Albino at Muzzy Field. Photo credit: Craig Rosenberg

“Nobody is pointing fingers,” McCann said of the team’s attitude. “Everyone takes responsibility for their performance, their mistakes, their successes. And it’s kind of a cool environment to see where even though we might have a disappointment, everyone picks themselves up and it’s contagious.

The team managed to overcome all of the differences and come together in the history of the Legion program and the honor that comes with wearing Post 96 on the front of their jerseys. The group recognizes that it does not participate in any summer baseball league. American Legion Baseball is unique in many ways, but its rich history is what really sets it apart from other summer programs.

Tucker Redden hits a brace at Yard Goats Stadium. Photo credit: Craig Rosenberg

“They know the organization they’re playing for,” McCann said. “Respect is a big part of what we do because we play for an organization of men and women who fought for this country. It’s a bigger picture type thing.

Leading by example, this 19U squad is paving the way for younger teams. Unlike many other places and fortunately for West Hartford, interest and engagement in baseball has remained high and there is talent at all levels, raising hopes for a bright future for the Legion program.

“It’s just that the kids aren’t interested.” McCann spoke about the national decline in baseball engagement. “On a professional level, baseball really isn’t very appealing to younger groups. […] But in West Hartford, we were lucky. The supply and demand are there, so we’re trying to keep up. »

The team arrives to strike. Photo credit: Craig Rosenberg

With a 17U team in second place and two 15U teams in the top six, the Senior Legion team is sure to have consistent talent in the years to come, but for now the focus remains on the next game, the first round of the state tournament.

“Our big thing is ‘let’s win one round at a time,'” McCann explained. just win one round at a time. And teach these guys how to have a short term goal and look at the micro versus the macro.

The team is scheduled to play its first Pod A game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Hall High School. The 96ers will enter uncharted territory in the tournament, having yet to face the other three teams in their group.

Despite the unknown, McCann and his team are confident and motivated as they seek to win the program’s first state title since 1973.

Color guard entering Yard Goats Stadium. Photo credit: Craig Rosenberg

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