Ridgefield All-Stars ready to make district run

For motivation, Steve Hanna says his players on the Ridgefield Little League 12-year-old All-Star team need only look back to last summer.

After winning a district title and advancing to the state quarterfinals as 10-year-olds in 2015, Ridgefield lost in the district semifinals as 11-year-olds a year ago.

“Hopefully, last summer will push us to do better this year,” said Hanna, the team’s manager. “They were disappointed to not go farther after winning districts the summer before.”

With nearly all of its core players from the past two post-seasons back, Ridgefield is considered one of the favorites in District 1.

“It’s a real tight group with great chemistry,” said Hanna, who also managed the players as 10- and 11-year-olds. “That’s a definite plus for us.”

On the field, Ridgefield is skilled in several key areas, according to Hanna.

“Pitching, speed and defense,” he said. “I would say those are our strengths. We have some big bats — five or six guys can hit home runs — but I don’t think we are a power-hitting team.”

Joel Strand, the team’s closer the past two years, has moved into the starting rotation for Ridgefield. “He has always thrown the ball hard, but he has improved his accuracy and also developed a change-up,” said Hanna about Strand.

Twin brothers Matthew and Daniel Bucciero — who recently led Community Center to the Ridgefield Little League Majors Division town championship — join Will Hanna and Justin Keller in Ridgefield’s five-man pitching staff.

“All of them could start for us,” said Steve Hanna, “and all of them can pitch out of the bullpen.”

Aidan Stern, Aidan Bogursky and Strand are the team’s catchers, with Strand and Matthew Bucciero at first base and Bogursky and Hanna at third base. Ridgefield’s middle infield features Hunter Jewell at second base and Daniel Bucciero at shortstop.

Grady Gernert returns in centerfield, backed by Hanna and flanked by a corner-outfield group that includes Matthew Shepard, Justin Heinsohn, Brendan Busby, Myles Gythfeldt, and Keller.

At the plate, Ridgefield will look for Matthew and Daniel Bucciero to get on base and set the table for middle-of-the-order hitters Keller, Strand and Hanna.

“Those are the likely top-five batters,” said Steve Hanna. “After that we have a lot of kids who can put the bat on the ball and play small ball and some other guys, like Heinsohn and Busby, who have bigger bats.”

Notes: Mike Bucciero and Craig Bogursky return as Ridgefield’s coaches.

Stamford National is considered the favorite after winning both the District 1 and state championships as 11-year-olds last year. Wilton should also be strong, according to Steve Hanna.

Ridgefield plays the first of three Pool A games on Sunday at noon against Stamford North at Fitzgerald Field. The team’s other pool games are Tuesday (7:30) at Weston and Friday (5:45) at Darien.

Once pool play is completed, the teams who are unbeaten or have one loss will advance to the double-elimination playoffs. The district winner moves on to the state tournament, with that champion heading to regionals. The regional winner qualifies for the Little League World Series in Williamsburg, Pa.