It's been years since a Fairfield American Legion team could boast the success its junior squad has enjoyed this summer.

Despite competition from new AAU programs -- there are at least six programs in Fairfield alone -- and a lagging senior legion program, Fairfield's junior program enjoyed its best summer to date, posting a 19-8 regular season. Fairfield has won nine of its last 10 games, including its first three sectional tournament games and Southern Division semifinal game.

Fairfield met Trumbull, too late for this edition, Thursday in Bethel for the division championship.

"I think the players on their own have come together as a team," Fairfield coach Bob Cote said after the team's 8-0 sectional opening win against Danbury. "I've been the beneficiary as a coach ... the kids really grew up this year."

It is the kind of success that Fairfield should enjoy every year, given its single legion program, relatively large population, and vast resources and talent. Fairfield American Little League alone won three consecutive state championships, and Fairfield National has not been a slouch in District 2 either.

Yet the cache of those AAU programs has zapped Fairfield's legion program of those resources. Still, Fairfield legion sports two players from American's 2010 team, Tommy Ryan and Chris Howell.

"The junior team's success is a reflection of the offseason commitment we made to recruit high-caliber young players and reintroduce legion baseball to the Fairfield baseball community," Fairfield general manager Sarsfield Ford said. "This is part of our three-year rebuilding plan to strengthen the program by offseason workouts, community service and to be ready for the highest level of daily competition."

Plus, Cote and assistant coach Kevin Keys have created a team-oriented culture in which players want to play.

"I like playing with all my friends," Fairfield pitcher Daniel Stanco said.

And they have a good team. In its opening sectional game, Stanco surrendered just two hits and dominated. Fairfield's defense was near-flawless, committing just one error -- in the first inning, no less -- behind Stanco.

In Fairfield's state quarterfinal game Wednesday, Chris Montani allowed only two unearned runs in 3 1-3 innings. His catcher Bret Stevenson had three RBIs and two hits in Fairfield's 10-3 win over Naugatuck.

Seven different high schools, including both Fairfield publics, Fairfield Prep and Notre Dame, are represented in this program. Yet, Fairfield has come together with one goal in mind: winning.

"I think we have good chemistry," Stanco, a rising junior at Fairfield Ludlowe, said. "When we have a good team, and we all get along, it's easier for us to win."

Fairfield's senior program muddled along, going 7-20 and placing eighth out of 10 teams in the hypercompetitive Zone 4. Zone 4 of junior legion is no less competitive -- three of the Southern Division semifinalists were from Zone 4 -- but Fairfield still found a way to persevere.

"We're in Zone 4, which is the toughest zone in legion in the entire state," Cote said.

Cote knows the odds are stacked against his team; he also knows that legion exists for a reason. The Fairfield Rage, Connecticut Blue Jays, Connecticut Wolfpack,Technique Tigers and others may pull players from Fairfield, but they don't offer the affordability that Cote's club does.

"I had been in the AAU world for about 12 years before coming to legion," Cote said. "I get the allure of the AAU idea ... but the travel scehdule, the cost of playing, the commitment, it's too much. I think legion has all the more to offer, especially in Fairfield County."

AAU's allure and fraternity may offer Fairfielders comfort, but winning will ultimately drive kids either to or away from legion, and Cote is hoping that a year like this will steer the program back into more secure waters.

"Ultimately with the junior program, we're looking to build a little bit of a groundswell and get a little bit more interest in Fairfield legion," Cote said. "And to try to keep the homegrown kids in our backyard instead of letting them go elsewhere and play."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens