West/Put MSBL 21+ Division
Submitted by Jake Whitney, Braves manager
After claiming the Westput MABL/MSBL 21+ championship in 2012, the Mohegan Braves dropped out of the league for a couple of seasons to regroup. Returning in 2015, managers Jake Whitney and Mark Hughel believed they had assembled a powerhouse squad, composed of an interesting mix of older and younger players, league vets and rookies, some longtime Braves and a bunch of new ones. But early struggles left the managers perplexed. The team started 1-5, dropping the Braves to the bottom of their division. What was the problem? Key players, the managers realized, were not attending consistently. Pitching depth was also an issue, with virtually no arms to support Braves’ starters Josh Wolin, Rob Baddeley and Jay Tomasulo.
The turning point, luckily, came early. Ironically, it was a double-header shellacking by the White Plains Tigers, the team they’d eventually face in the championship, that got the Braves back on track. Before the disastrous DH, in which the Braves were mercy-ruled in game one, RHP Ray Cruz joined the squad. Cruz would go on to become one of the team’s aces, pitching brilliantly most of the season until an arm injury moved him to third base. It was also after that humiliating DH loss that the Braves dynamic duo — brothers Alex and Greg Pezzuto, at shortstop and center field, respectively, would fully commit to the team. The Braves went on to win 11 in a row, and 12 out of their remaining 13, to finish the regular season 13-6. In the post-season they beat the Westchester Royals in a single game elimination, then took out the Greenwich Grizzlies in a best of three series to face the Tigers in the championship, where they split the first two, only to come up short in the rubber match, 4-2.
The 2015 Mohegan Braves’ championship run was a true team effort. Scrappy leadoff hitter/co-manager Hughel is a former member of the Westchester Yankees, as is catcher Jeff Ho, pitcher Rob Bads, and the Pezzuto brothers. Ho assumed much of the catching duties this season with Whitney transitioning away from the position. Ho worked particularly well with Wolin, who had perhaps his best season in a Braves uniform — the highlight being a 1-hit shutout that knocked the Grizzlies out of the playoffs. Veteran Baddeley had a slew of game winning hits and showed his versatility by playing key innings at third base and right field in addition to pitching. Meanwhile, Hughel continued to be one of the league’s best leadoff hitters, with the Pezzuto brothers two of the league’s best all-around players.
New to the league and the Braves this year were outfielders Jason Bopp and Rich Gagliardi, as well as Cruz. All three were huge contributors, with Bopp among the team leaders in extra-base hits and tied for the team lead in home runs. Rounding out the 2015 squad were the veteran Braves. In addition to Whitney and Wolin, there was the sweet-swinging first baseman Jeff Cobelli, who played stellar defense all season and seemed to work every AB to a full count.Jay Tomasulo was another key piece of the puzzle. Tomasulo pitched extremely well, played a tight second base, and swung a red-hot bat for much of the season. Last but not least was Gary Stout, one of the original Braves from 2003, and one of only five, along with Whitney, Cobelli, Tomasulo, and Wolin, left over from the 2012 championship squad. Stout’s leadership, solid defense at first base and right field, and streaky bat — he also tied for the home run lead — were significant factors in the Braves successful 2015 season.