Tri-State Finals Preview

Copyright Peter Wallace    Register-Citizen   8/20/2011
At the end of an 18-game regular season in the 17-team Tri-State Baseball League, Winsted, the 14th-place team, was just seven games behind the leader, Litchfield. Now, three weeks and five rounds after the start of a 12-team double elimination playoff, this weekend’s final survivors — the Litchfield Cowboys, Tri-Town Trojans and Wolcott Scrappers — are the original one, two and three tournament seeds, separated in the regular-season standings by a single game. Any athletic league in the country would be thrilled with that parity. Any fan in the country would revel in a contest between such close contestants.
Northwest Corner baseball fans can make their final visit to organized summer baseball a great one with games at Torrington’s Fuessenich Park at 1 p.m. today and Sunday. Today, No. 2 Tri-Town (17-5, 3-1 playoffs) hosts No. 3 Wolcott (17-5, 3-1 playoffs) in the final elimination game for the right to play a best-of-three championship series with Litchfield (18-3, 3-0 playoffs) Sunday, Tuesday evening and Thursday evening if necessary. In some ways the final pyramid is as symmetrical as the league’s season has been. The Cowboys, who earned their championship slot as the last remaining member of the winners bracket, have the oldest organization. Litchfield entered the 77-year-old league in 1973. “We have more older guys than they have,” said player/coach Chris Beach, one of the veterans who blend in well with the Cowboys’ talented youth.
Still, the influx of focused young teams like Tri-Town (2007) and Wolcott (2007) is undoubtedly part of the raised quality and parity in the league. The Trojans got to the finals last year. The Scrappers plan to get there this year. “We stocked up on pitching so we could make a run,” said Wolcott player/coach Ryan Soucy. “We don’t want to just get to the championship. We’re going to try to win it.” Tri-State’s high-quality players have always lived and breathed the game. This year’s parity just ups the ante.
“I haven’t seen the this team this upbeat,” said Kyle Weaver, another of Litchfield’s veterans. “Usually, we’re playing golf at this time.” The Cowboys found their winning formula after just one championship in its history (1978) and three other finals appearances no later than 1990. Now they’re pumped. But no more than the other two survivors. “We having the most fun this year,” said Soucy, whose team played its way to the Stan Musial Tournament Regionals. “It makes us want to win all the more so we can keep playing.” “It comes down to who’s got the pitching,” said Tri-Town player/coach Ryan McDonald, sizing up today’s match-up. “We always play close. We’re the same team. We both hit the ball. We both have good pitchers. We both play hard. We always finish in the top five in the league.”
It’s great baseball, but it’s the end of a long season. No matter how intense, the teams still have to deal with summertime issues. For the Trojans, that means one of their aces is on vacation, another is back at college for four days of pre-season soccer workout. Player/coach Andrew Osolin, a veteran with the young Trojans, will likely give himself the nod today. Osolin held off the Cowboys in Tuesday’s winner’s bracket finals until fielding errors mounted up against the Trojans.
Wolcott’s Soucy plans to come back at Tri-Town with Zach Sehnal. Sehnal took the Scrappers’ 4-3 loss to the Trojans in a playoff game when all four Tri-Town runs came in just one inning.
“They don’t have their ace (Miles Scribner); we don’t have our best hitter (Adam LaCapra). It’s a wash,” said Soucy. If the Scrappers win today, Soucy plans to start Justin Koutros in Game One against the Cowboys Sunday. “I’ll flip a coin on those two (Koutros or Sehnal) any day,” he said. If Tri-Town wins, the Trojans will have Scribner — 12-0 in the league — available on Sunday.
Litchfield’s Beach is happy to go with his workhorse, Kevin Murray. Murray throws strikes, but not necessarily the number of strikeouts the others do. “We have a very good infield and an extremely competent outfield,” said Beach. “I’ll put our speed and arms in the outfield up against anyone else’s in the league.” Kyle Robinson, who’s become very good in the number two starting spot, is expected to go for Litchfield Tuesday. Chris Blazek, who tweaked a hamstring in his closer’s role four weeks ago, has reveled in “just playing baseball in right field.” As a lefty who could and perhaps should be pitching in Triple A or higher for Major League Baseball, he’s available in an emergency.
For fans, the only emergency might come from the weather. With clear skies, area summer baseball makes its final best flourish in the next few days.