BRISTOL - Before the CT Elite Baseball Association season began, Bill Mason wasnâ€™t quite sure what kind of team he would have.Â
The coronavirus pandemic had already forced the American Legion baseball season to be canceled and Mason was worried about how many players would opt to play in the new one-year summer league. But once practices started and the season began, it didnâ€™t take the Bristol 17U CTEBA team coach to see his players had the making of a title contender.Â
â€śWhen we first started putting the team together, I didnâ€™t think we would get enough guys to play,â€ť Mason said. â€śBut once the boys came out and we had a couple of practices, and the season started, right from the start I told them they had the ability to be a championship-caliber team. They just had to work hard to get there.â€ť
Bristol has certainly put in the work this summer. After a 16-2 regular season, the team secured the No. 1 seed in the upcoming single-elimination 17U Tournament. Bristol will host eighth-seeded Naugatuck (12-8-1) at Muzzy Field on Friday night at 6:30 p.m.Â
If Bristol wins Friday, it will play Saturday at noon and another victory would secure its spot in the championship round Sunday at 1 p.m. Second-seeded Orange (17-4), No. 3-seed Ellington (14-4), fourth-seeded Wallingford (15-6), No. 5-seed RCP (12-6), sixth-seeded West Hartford (11-7) and No. 7-seed NCL (11-6) fill out the bracket.
â€śI would say itâ€™s been our starting pitching and our defense,â€ť Mason said on whatâ€™s allowed his team to be so consistent this summer. â€śOur defense has been great this year. Weâ€™re averaging less than one error a game and our starters have been able to almost pitch a complete game every game.â€ť
That kind of consistency in the field has allowed Bristol to win in a multitude of ways this season, especially has it has had to try and find its groove offensively. Last week, Ryan Fradette hit the teamâ€™s first home run of the summer. Overall, Bristol has won 11 games by four runs or more this season and won another five by three runs or less. Itâ€™s only two losses were a 5-3 loss to West Hartford on July 22 and a 13-10 loss to Newington, which didnâ€™t qualify for postseason play, in the regular season finale.
Overall, Bristol has scored 117 runs this summer (an average of 6.5 per game), while giving up just 42 (2.3 runs per game) to opponents.Â
â€śIt took us a while to get going because we didnâ€™t have a lot of practice coming in,â€ť Mason said. â€śThe kids all missed their spring school seasons, so I wondered what it was going to be. Was it going to be pitching or hitting or fielding that was going to be the best for us to start out. For us, we definitely lacked in hitting, but itâ€™s really come together lately. Last week, we scored 42 runs in five games. The bats have really come alive.â€ť
Much of that has been attributed to Bristol being able to move runners over to third base, quite a few doubles, finding the gaps in the defense and a number of timely hits.
That could be a scary prospect for the other teams in the tournament. Only two teams, Wallingford and Ellington, have scored more runs (156 and 118, respectively) this summer than Bristol. But no team has allowed fewer runs than Bristolâ€™s 42. Wallingford has surrendered 80, Ellington 77. Naugatuck, meanwhile, has scored 94 runs this season, but given up 72 in comparison.Â
That means players like Fradette, Roberto Cruz, Dylan Woodsome, Matt Beaucar, Adam Caron and Nate Ouellette, among others, will need to continue to play as well, if not better, than they had during the regular season.
â€śFor our players, itâ€™s been business as usual,â€ť Mason said. â€śOur lineup has been pretty much the same throughout the summer. Weâ€™re fortunate to be able to move players around when others are pitching. Our players know how to play well with each other and support each other.â€ť
But for Mason, success in the tournament is going to come down to what got Bristol the top seed in the first place - pitching and defense.
â€śIf we go out there and play the defense way weâ€™ve been and pitch the way weâ€™ve been, and keep the runs down, if weâ€™re able to do that, weâ€™ll get through the tournament,â€ť Mason said. â€śOur hitting will be there to score us enough runs.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org