Legion: Middletown Post 75 blanks Monroe in tournament

Monroe American Legion Post 176 picked the worst possible day to play one of its poorer games of the season on Sunday afternoon.

Hosting Middletown Post 75 in the second round of the state-wide tournament, Monroe committed four errors in the course of two innings late in the game and watched as a 2-0 deficit ballooned into a 9-0 loss at Masuk High School.

The defeat ended Post 176’s season with a 17-6 record.

“I guess we left our gloves home today,” said Monroe coach Bob Pagel. “They managed some infield hits, some bloopers that fell in the outfield for hits, and, quite simply, we didn’t make the plays when we needed to. That’s unusual, because, for most of this season, we played strong defense.”

Middletown’s win, its 24th of the season against six losses, moves them into a third-round, best-of-three series beginning on Tuesday at Greenwich.

Middletown scored three first-inning runs, then rode the pitching of starter Dan Botti and relievers Michael Gaboury and Luke Garofalo to its second shutout in two days (the first was a 5-0 win over Norwalk on Saturday).

The trio held Monroe to just three hits, all of them singles, by starting and losing pitcher Patrick Ryan, Vin Sampieri and Patrick Lazzaro.

Monroe got runners to second and third in the second inning and couldn’t score. Post 176 stranded two more runners in the third and left single runners on base in the first and sixth innings.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to bat around this early in a game,” said Middletown coach Tim D’Aquila, a former three-sport (football, wrestling and baseball) star athlete at Middletown High who went on to a collegiate baseball career (as a catcher) at Central Connecticut State University. “We did it today within two innings. What it did was take the pressure off of our pitchers. They were able to throw strikes, let the hitters make contact, and our defense did the rest.”

Middletown send eight hitters to the plate in the first against Ryan, a pitcher that Middletown also bested in the 2016 state tournament.

After getting lead-off batter Cal Pitruzello on a fly out to right, Garofalo, who opened the game at short, followed with the first of his four straight hits which didn’t leave the infield.

Middletown’s number three batter, its catcher, Tyler Popp, drove a ball to deep left just over the head of Lazzaro. Garofalo came in to score and Popp ended up at second with a double. Popp then scored on Connor Cardi’s single. Middletown’s third run scored when William Egan hit into a fielder’s choice.

Botti pitched into the third inning before giving way to Gaboury. He left after throwing 62 pitches. Gaboury pitched 3 1/3 innings and threw only 32 pitches. Garofalo retired the side in the seventh.

“It also helps when your pitchers only have to throw 12 or 13 pitches in an inning,” D’Aquila said.

Middletown added two runs in the fifth and had only one hit, a single by Jack Higgs. Three of Monroe’s four errors occurred in the frame.

The winners also took advantage of a throwing error and a wild pitch to plate two of its four runs in the sixth. Tim Dickson drove in another with a single.

“We need to do something to get more players involved in the Legion program in Monroe,” Pagel said. “We’re losing a few off of this team. The kids I had were exceptional. There were games when we had only nine players. I would ask a player to pitch who never pitched before and he did it; I’d ask another kid to play third who’d never played there before. They were committed to playing. They were true baseball players. It’s too bad we couldn’t have played just a little bit better today.”

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