ORANGE – Shawn Blake was well aware the Orange pitching staff had a game plan in place for him at the plate. Knowing this, the Stratford first baseman stuck to his plan.
Blake prolonged his at bats and waited for his pitches, hitting two long home runs as Stratford defeated Orange 5-2 Tuesday evening at Brinley Field in Orange.
With second place in Zone II on the line, Stratford rallied from a 2-0 deficit to improve to 21-6, one half game ahead of Orange with a doubleheader to be played at Penders Field in Stratford Thursday evening.
“I wanted to work the count a little bit,” Blake said after driving in three runs. “I tried to work the count to get into a fastball hitting count.”
Blake did just that on two separate occasions as he refused to let the Orange pitchers dictate the at bats. Trailing 2-0 in the third with Alec Ward on first, Blake ripped a long homer to right off Orange starter Ross Weiner to even the game at two.
“He hits the ball like a man,” Stratford coach Mike DellaVecchia said. “He never hits the pitcher’s pitch. He sits on his pitch. He is such a good hitter.”
With the game even at two and Orange’s Nick Fusco having struck out the first two batters he faced in his first inning of relief in the fifth, Blake may not have thought he would see his pitch. After battling to work the count full, Blake got another fastball and launched a shot over the fence in right center for a 3-2 lead.
“This is a tough loss,” Orange coach Bob Mirto said after his team fell to 21-7. “He (Blake) is a very good hitter. We tried to throw a fastball by him and he really hit it.”
Despite trailing for the first time in the game, Orange had its opportunities in the final three innings. With Brian Ronai and Chris Winkel on with singles with two outs in the fifth, Matt Ronai hit a rocket up the middle. A perfectly placed Joe Marsan fielded the ball for Stratford and stepped on second for the final out of the inning.
Stratford took advantage of Orange’s inability to capitalize with two insurance runs in the seventh. Cameron Belliveau reached on an error off reliever Sebastian DiMauro to start the frame and Ward reached on a bunt single while attempting to move Belliveau into scoring position.
DiMauro wisely walked Blake to load the bases, but Sam Breiner’s sacrifice fly to left scored Belliveau for a 4-2 lead. Jake Amoroso reached on an error to score Ward just one batter later for a three-run advantage.
“The home runs got us back into the game,” DellaVecchia said. “All year long, we have been a second half of the game team.”
Orange did not go down quietly in the seventh off Stratford starter Rob Koripsky. With one out, Brian Ronai doubled, DiMauro singled and DiMauro advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch by Koripsky.
Winkel was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Koripsky escaped when he got Matt Ronai to line to Amoroso in right for the final out of the contest.
The inability to score hampered Orange from start to finish. Post 127 had a golden opportunity to score in the first as the team had runners on second and third with one out following a single by DiMauro and a double by Winkel. Matt Ronai followed with a fly out to Darek Wojenski in left to seemingly give Orange the lead.
With DiMauro tagging on the short fly and scoring, Orange appeared to be in good shape. Stratford appealed and DiMauro was ruled to have left the base too early, ending the rally and taking the run off the board.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Mirto said. “That play at third base was a big call. But, they hit the ball. They hit the ball hard. They are a good team. It was a good game.”
Orange took the lead in the second as Mike Appel hit a one-out single, Devin Belenski followed with a double and Brian Ronai lifted a short single to right to score Appel for a 1-0 advantage.
DiMauro followed with a double to score Belenski, but Russo’s long fly ball to the fence in left was snared by Wojenski for the final out of the inning.
“They hit the ball really hard,” DellaVecchia said. “We were getting the ball up and we just said we have to get it down.”
Blake led Stratford with two of the team’s eight hits, while driving in three. Sam Breiner finished with a pair of hits and a run batted in, while Koripsky allowed two runs on 10 hits in the win for Stratford.
DiMauro and Brian Ronai each led Orange with two singles, a double and a run batted in. Winkel added two hits and reached base three times in the loss.