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Sonomans help Leghorns reach state final

Sonoma’s Vinny Albano had a stellar two series both offensively and defensively for the American Legion Baseball Area-champion Petaluma Leghorns, who were edged for the state title by Chico. Vince Albano/Special to the Index-Tribune

Sonoma’s Vinny Albano had a stellar two series both offensively and defensively for the American Legion Baseball Area-champion Petaluma Leghorns, who were edged for the state title by Chico. Vince Albano/Special to the Index-Tribune

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Last year, two Sonoma Valley High School diamond all-leaguers,  outfielder Vinny Albano and  pitcher Jimmy Flatt, were key players and contributors for the Petaluma Leghorns American Legion Baseball team that won the area, state and regional titles, and reached the baseball association’s World Series.

This year, Albano, a 2014 SVHS graduate, and two recent Dragon teammates, incoming Sonoma senior CJ Vitale and junior MacLean Meyn, played for Petaluma’s Post 28 squad, which won its second straight American Legion area tournament title, but fell short of repeating as state champions.

Comprised of top Sonoma County prep and Santa Rosa Junior College players, the Petaluma Leghorns won nine games in both the double-elimination area and state tourneys.

But the Leghorns’ back-to-back losses to Chico, which they beat once in each tournament, in the state final, cost them their second straight state crown and a spot, as defending champions, in the Section Regional in Arizona, and a chance for a second consecutive trip to the American Legion World Series.

In going unbeaten in five straight games en route to winning the American Legion Area Tournament in Fairfield, the Leghorns beat Yolo 12-1; defeated Redding 15-4; lumbered past Humboldt 28-11; trimmed Fairfield 12-9; and edged Chico 10-8.

Advancing to the State Tournament at the Veteran’s Home Field in Yountville, Petaluma posted four more victories, overwhelming Long beach 20-1; nipping Fairfield 10-9; again topping Chico, this time 12-8; and upending Chico, again, this time by an 8-6 margin.

But, having to lose to Chico twice to be denied state title, the Leghorns were first stung by Chico 7-6 in 11 innings in the first game, then in the California American Legion championship final, they were stunned 5-2 by Chico, which advanced to the regionals.

All three Sonoma boys turned in a string of strong tournament efforts for the Leghorns, with Meyn playing first base, pitching and  batting as a designated hitter, coming through with some big hits; and Vitale’s exceptional defense at third base, while also collecting some key hits.

But it was the Valley’s Albano who delivered stellar performances in the two tourneys playing in both left and his usual center field positions, where he made some highlight catches and throws, including his diving catch to end the second state tournament game that prevented Fairfield from scoring the game-tying run.

Albano was also an offensive force for the Leghorns, batting near .500, while scoring runs and providing RBIs.

After two straight outstanding American Legion seasons, the Petaluma Leghorns will again be one of the frontrunners when the 2015 season comes around, and with a 19-year-old eligibility cutoff date, all three Sonoma players could return and compete for the neighboring valley’s team.

(John Jackson, Petaluma Argus Courier Sports Editor, contributed to this story.)