AMERICAN LEGION: Wallingford takes a blend of veterans and rookies into newly configured Zone 2

AMERICAN LEGION: Wallingford takes a blend of veterans and rookies into newly configured Zone 2

WALLINGFORD — The Wallingford Post 187 American Legion baseball team returns some familiar faces, but are now in an unfamiliar Zone.

The Connecticut American Legion Baseball re-zoned the entire state during the offseason and Wallingford is now in Zone 2, no longer in Zone 3.

Moreover, the new Zones have been subdivided. Each division within a Zone has five teams. Wallingford is Zone 2’s Eastern Division with Branford, Cheshire, Meriden and Madison.

“One thing is getting used to how the leadership of Zone 2 runs their zone,” Post 187 coach John Amendola said. “As opposed to Zone 3, we’ve been used to doing it their way for a long time. I know there is a set of rules, but everybody has a little tweak.”

Meriden and Cheshire made the jump with Wallingford, but there should be an uptick in competition with teams like Branford, North Branford, Milford and Orange. 

“A lot more of the teams now in our Zone are going to be teams that are made up of kids from the Southern Connecticut Conference,” Amendola said. “The conference is probably one of the best high school conferences in the tri-state area. From what I'm told, it's one of the best there is. A lot of big colleges recruit out of there.”

Amendola said that he is not entirely sure if the competition level will be higher than it was in Zone 3, but he expects his team to be ready for anything this season. A mix of veteran leadership and young players make for the perfect balance to compete in Zone 2, Amendola said.

After finishing in fourth place and missing the playoffs last year, Amendola said his team is looking forward to the new challenges coming this season. 

The top two teams from each division make the playoffs along with the third-place team with the best record.

“I think we have a chance to fight for a playoff spot. I really do,” Amendola said. “We have a deep pitching staff along with some veteran leadership and some really good young players. I think we have a bright future.”

The team will also be welcoming back Vinny Verlezza, Sebastian Sanchez and Evan Wilkinson after each took a break from Post 187. Amendola said he expects those players to provide some meaningful experience to the team.

The pitching staff is led by left-hander Kevin Vining. Other contributors to the staff include Nick Iannone and Caden Cloutier. The closer is center fielder and No. 3 hitter Tyler Lyons, who plays college baseball at UMass-Dartmouth.

“It's just rear back, here it is, can you hit it,” Amendola said. “(Lyons) really has a right fielder’s arm, a really strong arm. He's a kid who's a real baseball junkie. He really, really is. He lives it. We have a little indoor facility in town for our whole program and he’s been there every night since he’s been home from school.”

Lyons along with veterans Pat Christensen, Russell Edeen and Braydon Lyons have taken some of the new players under their wing, Amendola said. T

he head coach said he advised the young players to soak up whatever they can from the veterans.

Joe Amarone, Justin Hackett and Bill Gorry are among the newcomers that Amendola expects to have an impact. Hackett and Amarone will split shortstop and second base while Gorry will be at catcher.

“I have a lot of kids who are hungry and want to be better ball players,” Amendola said. “I think, especially, those three younger guys, I see all three of them with really bright futures. They are really good young players. One of them is a catcher. The other one is a shortstop and the other one is a second baseman. So they play up the middle, your strongest spots. But they are young.

“Will we have some growing pains with them? Probably, but as the year goes on, it will make them better.”