RCP Primed To Meet Cheshire In American Legion State Championship

Every player on the American Legion team known as RCP (Rocky Hill, Cromwell, Portland) has already won some sort of title.

The Cromwell crew, which makes up the core of the unit, won as Little Leaguers and took the 2012 Class S championship as high school players. The Portland players, smaller in numbers, just two, are the 2014 Class S champions; and Rocky Hill won the Class M title this year and finished the high school season as one of the best teams in the state. Lone Wethersfield graduate Matt Leitzio can lay claim to winning Zone 7 with the team this year.

Together, they're among the most decorated set of baseball players in the state. They're just missing one last title — the American Legion state championship.

"We feel like we're missing that last piece of the puzzle that can cap off everything we've done," RCP right fielder Alex Ramirez said Thursday.

They'll get their chance soon enough. RCP (22-5) plays Cheshire (29-10) Friday in Game 1 of the American Legion state championship at 6:30 p.m. at Cubeta Stadium in Stamford. Game 2 is Saturday at 11 a.m. and Game 3, if necessary, is at 2:30 p.m. Saturday

"We're ready," shortstop Christian Budzik said. "Everyone is calm, and we're not going to press and try to do too much. We're going to try and stay in ourselves and play our game."

RCP defeated Tolland 3-1 Wednesday to advance to the championship for the second time in three years. Cheshire beat Stamford 7-5 Tuesday. Both teams have already punched their tickets to the Northeast Regional in Middletown next week because Connecticut is among the largest legion programs in the country. The six states in the country with the most legion programs get an extra team in their respective regionals. As comforting as it is to be assured a spot in the regional field, Ramirez says his team has only one focus at this point.

"I know my team and I want that state championship more than anything in the world," Ramirez said.

The players know Cheshire will be tough. The Zone 3 champions defeated defending state champions and 2013 Northeast Regional champion Branford to get to the final and then took down Zone 4 champion and host Stamford.

"We know they have some good players, but we're excited for the challenge and ready to go out there and do what we know we can do," Ramirez said. "We're kind of playing with a chip on our shoulders because of two years ago."

In 2012, RCP led 5-1 in the fourth inning of the state championship against Milford. Ramirez, 16 at the time, was on the bench watching. Budzik and catcher Kevin Radziewicz were on the field. But as it often does in baseball, the narrative changed quickly. Milford rallied for four runs and scored on an error in the ninth to win the championship.

"We all know what is at stake and we don't want to fall short again," Budzik said. "We all learned that you can't be complacent and get caught on your heels."

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