Huegi, Champagne Met In Playoffs; Czel Led Team
Among the baseball players from Newtown who had success at the collegiate level this past season were former Newtown High School and Bethel Admirals American Legion players Charlie Huegi and Dylan Champagne, whose teams met in the Super Regional Championship game, along with Sam Czel, a hitter who led his Keene State squad in a pair of offensive categories.
This was the second time Huegi and his UMass Boston team reached the Division III College World Series. After winning one World Series game in his sophomore year, the team got two victories in the return, which this year was held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“The first time, it was a big experience for us, and I think a lot of nerves got to a lot of the players. Having the experience of being there before gave us a lot more confidence to do well,” Huegi said.
UMass Boston defeated Webster University and Chapman University in the World Series and ended up placing third.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” said Huegi, who graduated this past spring, having earned a double major in marketing and accounting. Huegi remains in the Boston area, working as a baseball camp instructor this summer.
UMass Boston defeated Baruch College and Wheaton in the regional tourney, then defeated New England College two games to one in the best-of-three Super Regionals series to advance to the World Series. Huegi and the UMass squad matched up with another Newtown product, freshman Dylan Champagne of the New England College team.
Delivering a pair of hits and a sacrifice fly, Huegi extended his hitting streak to 12 games, clinching his selection as Outstanding Player of the Super Regional.
In his career (182 games), Huegi batted .271, collected 34 doubles and seven triples, drove in 100 runs, walked 75 times, and stole 55 bases. Huegi was named to the Little East All Conference team each of the past two seasons. Through his junior year, the shortstop sat fifth on the Beacons’ all-time records list for career assists with 280.
Huegi played a variety of positions his freshman and sophomore years of college ball, including in the outfield and infield, ultimately landing at shortstop during his sophomore year and remaining there for the duration.
Huegi played third base and the catcher position in high school and played mostly shortstop, catcher, and first base in Legion ball with the Admirals. He is the only player whose number (29) has been retired by the Admirals.
“He was the heartbeat of the program for a couple of years. Not only a talented player, but an ultimate team chemistry player,” said Josh Hull, who coached Huegi with the Admirals. “He’s just a really good defender.”
“I think he played everywhere — anywhere we asked,” said Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli, who coached Huegi at Newtown High.
Memoli added that Huegi seemed destined for success given his attitude and willingness to play where needed.
Champagne Showed Poise
Champagne showed plenty of poise on the mound despite being a first-year college athlete and going up against older players.
“Usually, younger players have a tendency to nibble if you’re facing a star-studded lineup, and he just went right after them,” Hull said of Champagne’s efforts in the D-III Super Regional. Champagne, a hard-throwing left-hander, pounded the strike zone with 71 percent strikes in five innings of work in the 6-2 setback to UMass Boston in the decisive game.
Champagne helped the New England College Pilgrims capture their first New England Collegiate Conference championship. He pitched a perfect inning with two strikeouts for the save in game one of the conference tourney as the Pilgrims defeated Lesley University 5-2 before topping Mitchell College 5-0 and 2-1 to earn the title.
Champagne said he expected his team to win its first conference championship but was pleasantly surprised by the playoff success that followed. New England College defeated Massachusetts Institute of Technology and won two of three meetings with the University of Southern Maine to win the Regional championship. The Pilgrims fell to UMass Boston in the best-of-three Super Regional, but it was a memorable season overall for Champagne and his team.
“I had a feeling they were going to do some big things this year,” Champagne said of what helped lure him to be a part of the New England College baseball program.
“It was an amazing experience. I never thought we were going to go that far,” added Champagne, who is studying sport and recreation management.
“For him to come out and compete as a starting pitcher as a freshman, that’s pretty special,” Memoli said of Champagne.
Champagne is eyeing more success as his collegiate career unfolds.
“I’m planning on just improving a lot and getting my velocity up,” said Champagne, who throws four- and two-seam fastballs, a curveball, and changeup.
Czel, a junior at Keene State, led his team in slugging percentage and on base plus slugging during the 2019 campaign. He banged out four doubles, two triples, and five home runs for the Owls.
“In addition to being the fastest player I’ve ever coached, Sam stands out as being an ultimate teammate. He’s the same whether he’s 4-for-4 or 0-for-4,” Hull said.
Memoli best remembers Czel for his speed and his aggressiveness on the bases.
“Sam was another pleasure to coach. I remember what a quality high school player he was,” Memoli said. “He was the fastest player I ever coached, and we did some pretty ridiculous things on the bases with him, straight stealing of home, taking two bases on everything. Very happy he is having the success he is at the college level.”