By Hayley Tafuro
STAMFORD — Stamford American Legion Post 3 is back in action and has all of the tools it will need, some old and some new, to begin another chase toward a state championship this summer.
“There’s a great chemistry with this team,” coach Kevin Murray said. “They all can play, everybody on this roster can play and contribute. We’re blessed with pitching. We’re going to ride our pitching pretty much all summer.”
Stamford is currently 7-1, in first place, 1 1/2 games ahead of Darien/New Canaan.
Murray has a roster loaded with talent and arguably the deepest pitching staff in the zone, led by Division-1 bound pitchers Kevin Stone and Randy Polonia. Harvard-bound Stone is a threat on the mound, at the plate and in centerfield, and Polonia, who also plays shortstop and will take his talents to UConn, returns after capping off a brilliant high school career at Trinity Catholic as two-time FCIAC Player of the Year.
“Kevin and Randy are on top of the rotation,” Murray said. “You have Grant Stone and Billy DeVito pitching and Shawn Urbano, who’s a very good pitcher. Pete Horn is coming off an injury but he’s another arm that we have. As a group we have to throw strikes and trust our defense.”
Horn will take his post on first base when he is not making his start on the mound. Westhill’s Billy Blau and Luke Dawson will also play significant roles in the team’s rotation.
As if Murray didn’t already have enough superstars to choose from, Stamford’s DeVito joins the team for his first season, and already made his impact on the mound in the team’s seventh straight win, over Norwalk, in game one of a doubleheader this past weekend.
“New guys, especially Billy, they fill in right away and I think it’s good that we welcome them the way we do,” Stone said. “They can just go out there and be themselves on the mound or wherever they are playing.”
More key returning players for Stamford include catcher Cris Ruiz, who will also get time out from behind the plate this summer. Shortstop Johnny Spoto will see time at second base depending on the lineup, and Ryan Lee will continue to be a defensive presence at third.
Another newcomer, Anthony Frangiose, just finished his freshman year out of King. He joins the team as its youngest member at 15 years old, and has already made an impact on the team’s success.
What’s unique about his team is that just about every player can adapt to a different role when needed, something that will make it tough for opponents to crack as the season goes on.
“We’ve got a competitive schedule, we play a lot of games in two months and we spend a lot of time with each other, which is why I focus on family,” Murray said. “We’ve got to trust each other and everybody has to accept their roles.”
Luckily, everyone is healthy and has transitioned smoothly from spring high school season to summer ball. The players are ready to go, and despite the melting pot of different high schools that they have all just come from, they have been able to get on the same page thanks to that family-like atmosphere that Murray and his club foster, a key to their success, according to Stone.
“I think even though a lot of guys come from different high schools I think we’ve jelled really well,” Stone said. “I preach this, but we really are close and that shows the way we play on the field.”
Even though they are currently sitting at the top of their zone, they know they can’t take their feet off the gas and let teams sneak by them, as was demonstrated by Norwalk, which dealt Stamford its first loss in game two of the weekend doubleheader.
“Zone Four is very competitive,” Murray said. “We’ve got to come out every game and go at it and work to win the game. Everybody in the zone is dangerous.”
“Our goal is to win zone and go on from there, but we have good competition here so we’re going to take it step by step,” DeVito said.
Coming up on the packed schedule is a series with Darien/New Canaan 19U and another doubleheader, this time against Fairfield. Even though the season has just begun, memories of coming up short in the state tournament last year have instilled a focus in this team that has it working every day toward its end goal.
“I think we have to do a better job of taking it one game at a time,” Stone said. “I think we were a little complacent last year. We weren’t really ready to compete at that level yet. I think getting a loss was good in a sense for us. We got it out of the way and now we know what it takes to keep winning.”