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Update: The state playoff bracket was released on July 14, and the Admirals are scheduled to host North Haven on Saturday, July 15, beginning at 1 pm. The winner visits Trumbull the next day, also at 1 pm.
The American Legion’s U19 Bethel Admirals, comprising Newtown and Bethel players, are carrying winning ways — including some dramatic, walk-off triumphs — into the playoffs.
The Admirals, winners of nine of their last 11 games, went 14-9 overall, and clinched a state playoff berth. The Admirals, who had their regular season finale with Ansonia rained out two days in a row before being canceled, locked up third place in the Zone 5 standings. The top four teams in each of the state’s eight zones qualify for the sectionals, which get underway on Saturday, July 15.
Now it’s on to the single elimination first round of the playoffs. The Admirals, who play their home games at Bethel High’s Hunt Field, will be on the road to face an opponent to be determined when the tournament gets underway.
“What most impressed me this summer was the way our team stepped up to deal with a rash of injuries to key players, and their resilience when we rallied from behind in a lot of our wins,” Admirals coach Josh Hull said. “Our guys are excited about the playoffs. The spirit of our dugout is ‘why not us?’”
On June 29, the Admirals blanked visiting Danbury 2-0 behind Chas Cywin’s complete-game two-hitter, sparking the season-ending stretch of success.
Pitching remained the name of the game in a July 2 doubleheader against Oxford as the Admirals prevailed 2-1 and 1-0. Both games were thrilling walk-off efforts. In the 2-1 win, Dylan Champagne tossed a 103-pitch complete game, and Stephen Spinella executed a suicide bunt to score Will Huegi in the bottom of the seventh inning. The game-two contest went 12 innings and remained scoreless until Ben Harrison raced all the way around from first base on an Anthony Rodiguez line drive to right field and subsequent errant throw over third base.
In a quasi doubleheader, also in Bethel, on July 4, the Admirals and Waterbury resumed play from a protested game in the bottom of the fourth inning. This one actually ended up going longer than a regular, full game as the teams remained tied into the 12th inning before Waterbury prevailed 2-1.
Orlando Swift threw six innings of two-hit ball. In game two, the Admirals got a boost from Austin Kasbarian, who returned from the disabled list to throw five solid innings in long relief in a 10-4 triumph.
On July 6, more help on the mound came from Tim Vander Have who started his first game of the season after nursing a sore bicep. Vander Have threw a complete game gem against Monroe’s high octane offense. Vander Have and the Admirals shut down Monroe, which ranked fourth in runs scored per game among 70 Senior Legion teams in the state, with an 8-1 victory.
The Admirals had a two-team doubleheader on the road on July 8. They bounced back from a 13-1 setback to Oxford by defeating Naugatuck 7-4. Champagne tossed six innings and struck out seven batters. Rob Murray went 3-for-4 to continue his torrid season at the plate. Huegi, who suffered a painful spike wound on his left thumb in the earlier game, played the last two innings at second base left-handed even though he is right-handed.
In another two-team double header, the next day, July 9, Bethel outslugged host Shelton 8-6 then went home and bested Naugatuck 5-2. The Shelton game was a head-to-head battle of contenders for a third place finish in the zone. Swift suffered a first inning hiccup, then held Shelton hitless for five innings. The Admirals tallied three runs in the seventh for a come-from-behind win. Vander Have was 3-for-4 with a double and Harrison went 2-for-3 with three runs scored.
In the nightcap, the Admirals rallied to take the lead with a four-run sixth inning ignited by Murray’s single and powered by Huegi’s double. Huegi batted with a dollar-store oven mitt on his left hand for some protection following the injury. When he reached second base, umpire Hawk Christos told Huegi, “You’re the bread man.”
On July 10, the Admirals notched their third win over Naugatuck in three days with a come-from-behind walk-off victory under the lights at Hunt Field. Bethel’s Cywin went six innings and allowed three hits and two walks, and struck out six batters in his final pitching performance on his home field as an Admiral.
Trailing 1-0 in the sixth, the Admirals got even when Vander Have doubled, Champagne (2-for-3 with a double) singled him to third, and Kasbarian hit a sacrifice fly. In the last of the seventh, Huegi was hit by a pitch, was sacrifice bunted to second by Connor Hartman, and driven home on a single to right center by Harrison.