CHESHIRE — The Cheshire American Legion team has been known for its lights-out pitching staff.
But after dealing with injuries and departures, the rotation is not such a sure thing heading into the 2019 season.
Among the pitchers that Cheshire will be missing are Mike Hickey and Aidan Godfrey, who was a 6-foot-7 pitcher on the upswing. Cheshire’s head coach John Escoto said the younger pitchers on the team will need to step up in their absence.
“The high school season, you can get by with two pitchers,” Escoto said. “You pitch your Number 1 guy Monday, your Number 2 guy pitches Wednesday and then you can come back with your Number 1 on Friday. In Legion, you need five, six or seven quality guys. We have some young guys and maybe they can come through for us, but I don’t know yet.”
Cheshire still has Ben Shadeck and Rob Roles to lead the front end of the pitching staff this season. Shadeck, a key piece of Cheshire’s 2018 Class LL high school championship, is a cerebral lefty who also pitches for the University of New
“(Shadeck is) smart. He has good command and he is always around the plate. He is just a tough pitcher,” Escoto said.
While the team may lack a bit of experience in the rotation, the squad as a whole has a tremendous amount of veteran leadership. Escoto said his players’ gritty style has made them fun to coach during the early portion of the season.
“All of these guys were part of the state championship team and they were part of the team that went deep into the playoffs this year,” Escoto said. “They are just experienced and you don’t have to push them. They love to play baseball, which is half the battle.”
Cheshire, coming off a 25-2 high school season that culminated in the state semifinals, has no shortage of firepower in the starting lineup.
Ryan Strollo, a Fairfield commit, was not in the lineup for the season opener because he was at an All-State high school event. However, Escoto said he expects him to be a major contributor to the team this summer.
Strollo will play centerfield and bat in the top third of the lineup, Escoto said.
“He has it all,” Escoto said. “He’s a five-tool player. During the high school season, he hit third. Last season, he was a leadoff hitter.”
Cheshire made the jump from Zone 3 to Zone 2 this season after Connecticut American Legion Baseball re-zoned the entire state. On Tuesday, Cheshire opened with a 7-3 victory over a new Zone rival, Orange. Yet it’s a team Cheshire knows quite well from the Southern Connecticut Conference.
“Our guys knew every single player because that is essentially Amity (High School),” Escoto said. “The kids are telling me where the guys hit, what they do and what to be worried about.”
Cheshire is a part of the Eastern Division within Zone 2 alongside new competition in Branford and Madison. However, there is some familiarity with Meriden and Wallingford, two teams that were in Zone 3 with Cheshire.
“We are going against teams that we are not so familiar with and we are not so familiar with their style of play,” Escoto said. “We know what Meriden does; we know what Wallingford does. So there is familiarity there, but there is also a lot of unknown.”
Last season, Cheshire lost to Southington in the Super Regionals and Southington then went on to win the state championship.
Escoto said his team has become more mature since last summer and he feels good about Post 92’s chances.
“It’s hard to pick any one player (who will lead Cheshire),” Escoto said. “Of any team that I’ve ever coached, they are the true definition of team.”