MILFORD – With state championships and both regional and national appearances coming in the last decade, the Branford Post 83 baseball team has become a powerhouse in American Legion play.
Through 12 games this summer, it does not look as if that title will change.
Scoring five times in the first inning, Branford cruised to a 13-5 victory over Milford Post 196 at Foran High Sunday morning. The victory was Branford’s 11th in a row since a season-opening loss.
“These guys expect to win when they show up,” Branford coach Rich Balzano said. “We need to work on some things because we will be challenged a little more. We need to continue to improve. It is up to the kids to want continue to get better.”
Led by three hits apiece from Ben LaCroix and Devin DeRenzo, Branford pounded 12 hits and took advantage of 11 walks off three Milford pitchers. LaCroix finished a home run short of the cycle, while Tyler Criscuolo and Trevor Brown each added a pair of hits.
“Our offense has been pretty solid,” Balzano said. “We have been pretty good one through six. We are looking for a little more production from the bottom of the order. You can’t defend walks and we took advantage of their errors. But, we allowed them to get back in the game, before we came back the next inning.”
Branford came out swinging against Milford starter Jeremiah Bravo in the first inning, sending 10 batters to the plate, before the inning finally ended with Post 83 up 5-0.
“We walked too many guys today,” Milford coach Cliff Bugyi said after his team’s fourth straight loss dropped Post 196 to 5-7 on the year. “We played poor defense. Walks and poor defense hurt us today.”
Will Coleman reached on an error to start the frame, Jordan Botte singled and Criscuolo brought in Coleman with another single for a 1-0 lead. DeRenzo followed with a two-run double, scoring Botte and Criscuolo, before LaCroix singled.
After Bravo struck out Rob Barbash for the first out, Brown singled to score DeRenzo. A walk to Branford starter Mike Keinz loaded the bases and Bravo balked to score LaCroix for a 5-0 Branford lead.
“We came out hitting today,” LaCroix said of the first inning. “We are a strong hitting team. Me, Tyler (Criscuolo) and Devin (DeRenzo) have come up with numerous two-out hits. We just want to pick up the last guy.’
Post 83 took a 6-0 lead with one run in the third inning off Bravo. LaCroix led off with a triple, and Barbash and Brown walked to load the bases. D.J. Caron’s grounder to third scored LaCroix for the sixth Branford run.
“When teams make mistakes, we are able to take advantage and put up a bunch of runs,” DeRenzo said. “We are able to have big innings like we did today.”
Keinz went the first two innings on the hill for Branford, not allowing a run or hit, while striking out three and walking one. Keinz was replaced by T.J. Beaudin in the third and Post 196 took advantage of a Branford error to get on the board.
With two outs and a runner on first, Justin Lanese singled to right and Colin Firmender struck out, but reached on a passed ball on the play to load the bases. Bravo then grounded to third, but the ball was thrown away by Criscuolo, allowing two runs to score, getting Milford within 6-2.
“I was happy that we came back,” Bugyi said. “We continued to play hard. We came right back and got in the game, but we gave it right back the next inning.”
Mark Wooten relieved Bravo in the fourth and allowed a two-out double to DeRenzo and another doube to LaCroix for a 7-2 Branford advantage.
Milford got back in the game with three runs in the fifth as Firmender singled in a run, and Bravo singled to score Lanese. Nick Tuozzola’s sacrifice fly scored Firmender to get Milford within 7-5.
Post 196 never got closer as Branford answered with four runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh. Branford took advantage of five walks and two Milford errors in the sixth, sending 10 batters to the plate to score four times without the benefit of a hit in the inning.
Caron’s two-run single in the seventh scored DeRenzo and Barbash for a 13-5 Branford lead.