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Stamford Legion 17U Baseball tops Bethel, 9-1, to return to state final

July 29, 2016 GMT

MERIDEN — They are back where they wanted to be. Now it’s time for the Stamford Post 3 American Legion Baseball 17U team to care of unfinished business.

“Last year, the Stamford Legion 17U team lost in the state tournament final to RCP,” said Stamford’s Leo Socci. “Everybody on this 2016 squad wanted another shot at a state title.”

Stamford will get it’s wish. Post 3 dominated Bethel 9-1 Thursday night, capturing the Junior Legion Super Regional Southern Division championship at Ceppa Field.

“We have eight kids returning from last year and 10 newcomers. The team jelled from Day 1,” Stamford manager Tim Daly said. “Our returnees have been great leaders. Everyone in the group is so competitive. They have worked so hard. This is a just reward.”

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Stamford 17U will have its rematch with RCP (Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland Co-op) for the 2016 Junior Legion State Tournament crown. RCP edged Wallingford, 2-1 Thursday in South Windsor to win the Northern Division crown. The state final will be Saturday at Palmer Field in Middletown. The time is to be determined, based on whether Game 1 of the American Legion 19U best-of-3 series between Stamford and RCP is played or rained out Friday night at Palmer.

Stamford made sure there was little drama Thursday in the single-elimination, Southern Division final clash.

Stamford jumped out to a 3-0 edge in the bottom of the first inning against Bethel’s submarine-delivering left-hander Stephan Spinella.

Lucas Beldotti was hit by a pitch and Ruben Rodriguez drew a two-out walk. Bobby Zmarzlak followed with a two-run double to left-center. Zmarzlak used his speed to score on Liam Nicholson’s infield hit to deep short as the throw to first dribbled a few feet away from the bag.

“Our tendency is to score late in games. On the occasions, we do score early, we normally roll,” Daly said. “Those runs made our pitcher confident and allowed our hitters and defense to relax.”

“The 3-0 took pressure off me,” said Socci, a right-hander who started on the mound for Post 3. “It allowed me to just throw strikes, pitch to contact and let my defense work. My fastball and curve were sharp tonight. But I kept leaving my changeup up in the zone.”

The 3-0 deficit proved to be a mountain for Bethel. Bethel advanced to the Jr Legion 17U Elite Eight last year. This summer marks Bethel’s best 17U postseason run ever.

“Falling behind early did make it hard on us,” said Bethel manager Tom Harrison. “We were 18-2 in the regular season because this great group always found a scrappy way to win.”

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Adam Stone’s legs and baseball acumen gave Stamford a 4-0 edge in the bottom of the third against Bethel righty reliever Orlando Swift.

Stone stroked a leadoff single to left for the first of his three hits. He moved to second by tagging up on Rodriguez’ fly to deep center, stole third and scored on Zmarzlak’s grounder to short.

Bethel’s lone run came in the top of the fourth. Sam Grossano lined a leadoff single to center. He stole second, went to third on a groundout and tallied on Ryan Kost’s one-out single for 4-1.

Stamford settled the issue with five runs in the bottom of the fourth as 10 men came to the plate.

Mike Grafstein used a leadoff single, a wild pitch, Trey Donoghue’s sac bunt and Grant Purpura’s fielder’s choice to score for 5-1.

Adam Stone had a two-run single as Stamford pushed it to 9-1.

Socci struck out five and made Bethel leave the bases loaded in the fifth. Purpura relieved and got the final six outs in order to send Stamford to the Junior Legion State Tournament final. Bobby Cribbin is expected to get the start for Stamford Saturday.

“Stamford is a terrific team,” Harrison said. “They are strong in every phase of the game. I’m so proud of the effort of my group. But there can be only one happy team at the end of the postseason.”

rich.depreta@scni.com

STAMFORD 9, BETHEL 1

BETHEL 000 100 0 — 1 2 2

STAMFORD 301 500 X — 9 9 2

Batteries: B — Stephan Spinella (L), Orlando Swift (3) and Ben Harrison. S — Leo Socci (W, 5Ks), Grant Purpura (6) and Liam Nicholson.

Highlights: Southern Division champion Stamford will face the Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland Co-op on Saturday at a time to be determined at Palmer Field in Middletown for Legion 17U state title.

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