STAMFORD >> Branford is not going back to Shelby, North Carolina this season.
The defending Connecticut and Northeast Regional champions were eliminated in the super regionals by Stamford 2-0 at Cubeta Stadium Tuesday. If Branford would have won, it would have had a rematch with Cheshire with a chance to advance to the state championship. Cheshire defeated Branford Sunday, dropping it to the losers bracket.
Last season, led by stellar pitching and timely hitting, Branford charged all the way to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, North Carolina. A sign that read “Welcome to Shelby” was taped to the wall of the Branford dugout at Branford High as a reminder of the team’s goal that it just barely missed.
“Our bats went silent at an inopportune time,” said Branford coach Rich Balzano. “We’ve won a lot of good games, had a lot of great games and wonderful players on this team. We got beat by a couple of good teams.”
Branford couldn’t get anything going, as Stamford starter Kevin Stone struck out nine in a one-hitter. Branford had its issues bringing runs in against Cheshire, too, stranding 13 runners on base.
“(Stone) had a flat fastball that we weren’t catching up with,” Balzano said. “A few times we hit the ball,it was hit hard, but it was hit right at someone.”
Meanwhile starter Dylan Millhouse did all he could to keep Branford in the game, but a wild pitch in the top of the sixth inning to Kevin Stone allowed Randy Polonia to score from third to give Stamford a 1-0 lead. Later in the inning, Pete Horn laced an RBI single that scored Ron Jackson, who singled earlier in the inning, too, for a 2-0 lead.
Stone continued to dominate and in the ninth Jackson came in and got Branford to go down 1-2-3 to end the game, Branford’s season and hopes of a repeat.
“When you don’t put runs on the board you can’t win baseball games,” the coach said.
With the season officially over, and Branford’s core of Nick Perrelli, Kyle Hart and Mike Schettino all over the 19-under age limit for next season, Balzano looked back on the good times.
“I told them, ‘thanks for a wonderful ride over the years,’” he said. “I appreciate all they’ve done.”
But Balzano and Branford aren’t expecting to rebuild.
“We’ll be back,” the coach said. “We’ll be back next year. There’s always next year.”