This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published August 8, 2020
All summer long, the athletes on the Madison U-19 baseball team have been playing for one specific reason—the letter “M” that’s on their hats. Head Coach Jeff Buck said the “M” symbolizes the pride that comes with being a Madison athlete. Throughout the 2020 season, Buck has preached to his boys to play every inning with pride while competing in the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association (CEBA).
Madison did exactly that and then some by posting a regular-season record of 14-4 in the Division II standings of the CEBA, a league that was formed following the cancellation of the American Legion season baseball due to COVID-19. Madison wound up finishing second in its division to earn the No. 2 seed in the Division II Tournament, where the team posted a 3-0 win over Branford in the quarterfinals before taking a 6-0, extra-inning loss against Wallingford in the semis.
Coach Buck’s club ultimately finished with an overall mark of 15-5 in the CEBA. Buck was pleased with how his team performed, along with the way that Madison’s players represented their hometown on the ballfield.
“They’ve all bought into the team motto: Play for the ‘M.’ We are playing Madison baseball,” Buck said. “We’ve grown, and we play for each other. It’s not selfish baseball. They all want to win together.”
This year marked Buck’s sixth season coaching U-19 summer baseball in Madison and his fifth as a head coach. Buck grew up in Madison, was the starting catcher at Daniel Hand High School, and then played at Central Connecticut State University before deciding to become a coach. In addition to coaching in the CEBA, Buck is also the skipper of Madison’s Senior American Legion baseball team.
“Right after I got done playing, I knew I wanted to coach,” said Buck. “I enjoy being around the game, and it’s really great to watch the kids develop.”
Madison was led by a strong contingent of starting pitchers during its CEBA campaign. Matt Carone, MacHugh Messier, Aiden Patrick, Liam Wallace, and Danny Weinstein each made at least two starts on the mound this season. All five of those pitchers posted an earned-run average of 1.40 or lower.
Messier was as effective as anyone for Madison on the bump. In his seven outings, Messier threw 28 innings and allowed just three earned runs for a 0.75 ERA. He also led the team with 31 strikeouts.
Messier delivered in a big way when Madison hosted No. 7 seed Branford for a Division II Tournament quarterfinal game at Town Campus Field on Aug. 1. Messier, who plays college ball at Potomac State College at West Virginia University, pitched all seven innings for a complete-game shutout in a 3-0 Madison victory. Danny Weinstein hit a key two-run single to help Coach Buck’s team prevail.
“Messier pitched one of the best games I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Buck said. “He’s a returning junior college pitcher, and he’s a true competitor. He wants the ball and wants to get kids out. That’s exactly what you’re looking for in a pitcher.”
Wallace made the start and turned in a great effort when Madison faced 3rd-seeded Wallingford in the CEBA semifinals at Town Campus Field on Aug. 3. Wallace pitched shutout ball for 7.1 innings with six strikeouts in a game that Wallingford ultimately won in extra innings, prevailing by a 6-0 final in eight.
Madison had previously defeated Wallingford twice during the regular season. However, Coach Buck knew that his team was up for a tough game when two clubs met in the playoffs. After defeating Madison, Wallingford went on to take a 2-1 loss to No. 5 seed Hamden in the Division II championship game.
“We played them twice very early on in the summer, but I noticed they were starting to really hit the ball well,” said Buck of Wallingford. “I know their head coach [John Amendola] very well, and I knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
With the contest scoreless through seven, Wallingford scored all six runs of the game during the top of the eighth inning. Midway through the game, shortstop Jack Pireaux made a diving catch to get Madison out of an inning. Coach Buck said that second baseman Jared Kuryan also made several great defensive plays in the game.
At the plate, Ken Nuzzi had a hit with two stolen bases for Madison. Weinstein and Tucker Godiksen each had one hit in the contest.
Godiksen was one of Madison’s best bats in the lineup throughout the season, leading the team with a .341 batting average to go with four RBI and eight runs scored. Weinstein posted a team-high 12 RBI on the campaign.
Coach Buck complimented his team for playing stellar defense this year. Catcher Jack Farrell recorded a team-high 81 putouts and didn’t commit a single error all season.
A couple of months ago, Buck was unsure if Madison’s ballplayers would even get a chance to compete this summer, especially after the high school season was called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Buck is happy that his athletes were able to take the field in the CEBA and do so in safe circumstances.
“Early on, it wasn’t looking great, but we were able to figure it out and give these kids some sort of a season. We made it work,” Buck said. “The COVID protocols were strict, and the procedures were different for every field we played at. At Madison, only one or two kids were allowed in the dugout at a time, and I usually made sure that was our starting pitcher and catcher, so they could communicate a little bit.”
Above all, Coach Buck credits his players for the success that Madison enjoyed this summer. Buck feels proud that Madison has a successful baseball program, as well as the fact that his athletes reinforced that notion with their performance in the CEBA.
“The season as a whole was a success,” said Buck. “The players worked extremely hard during the season to put ourselves in the position we were in at the end of the regular season with a second-place seeding. They played for one another and had each other’s back in every aspect of the game. They truly played like Madison baseball players and played for the ‘M.’”
The athletes on the Madison U-19 baseball team are Carone, Farrell, Godiksen, Kuryan, Messier, Nuzzi, Patrick, Pireaux, Wallace, and Weinstein, along with George Anastasio, Jr., Eli Davies, Gio Roman, and Chris Wanat.