Trumbull's 1989 champs feel link to Westport LLWS team

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- For Paul Coniglio, times like these are special.

Each August, when the finest teams from around the globe descend upon South Williamsport, Pa., to play America's pastime, stories from years ago are retold.

The conversation, of course, focuses on 1989 and Trumbull's stunning run to the Little League World Series title. Coniglio, one of the few 11-year-olds on that team, made a return to Lamade Stadium last Sunday to cheer on Connecticut's latest success story on the diamond.

Westport is just the fourth team from Connecticut to reach the LLWS since Trumbull, joining Shelton National in 2008 and Fairfield American in both 2010 and 2012. On Sunday, the former outfielder witnessed Westport defeat Sammamish, Wash., 9-7 to become the first of those four teams to start 2-0.

"This Westport team's really solid," Coniglio said by phone from Connecticut. "They really pitch well. Just watching them play, they're so good fundamentally."

Westport suffered its first defeat of the summer on Wednesday to Chula Vista, Calif., 6-3 in nine innings, but can advance to the U.S. championship game with a victory Friday against Sammamish. Although 24 years have passed since Trumbull's title, it's become commonplace for those players to feel connected to a team that hails from their own backyard.

"You kind of relate to what they're doing," said Ken Martin, who played first base for Trumbull.

Today, Martin co-owns Colony Grill restaurant in Fairfield with former teammates Coniglio, Chris Drury and Cody Lee. He can vividly recall his mammoth home run that catapulted Trumbull to a 5-2 win over heavily favored Kaohsiung, Taiwan in the LLWS final. Trumbull was the first team from Connecticut to win the LLWS since Windsor Locks in 1965, and just the fourth overall.

In 1989, just eight teams made the LLWS, compared to 16 now, with play single-elimination.

"It's tough," Martin said. "You're playing teams that are really talented. ... You need some breaks, the pitching has to work out."

That Trumbull team had Drury, now of hockey fame, pitching. This Westport team has aces Chad Knight and Harry Azadian. Coniglio said that his team's prowess on the mound and in the field were often overlooked, but were both essential parts.

"They talked about how many runs we scored and how we hit the baseball," he said. "The one thing that wasn't talked about as much ... was how good defensively we were."

Part of winning, as Coniglio notes, is also learning to deal with the emotions that can sometimes envelop Little Leaguers. At the 1989 title game, more than 40,000 people packed into Lamade. More than 21,000 turned out for Westport's U.S. semifinal game on Wednesday, which was televised on ESPN.

Coniglio said the experience can be "nerve-wracking," but added that Westport's players seem to be handling the attention well.

"We had a lot of exposure, but with every single game being on ESPN, it's 24/7," he said.

Westport still has work to do at the LLWS, but Martin disputes the idea that teams from New England can't compete with the rest of the world. After all, he disproved it in 1989.

"There's no reason why 12-year-olds from New England can't be like 12-year-olds anywhere else," he said.; 203-255-4561 ext 114;