BRANFORD – It certainly looked as Branford Post 83 was going to fall out of first place in the Zone 2 American Legion baseball race.
Not so fast.
Down by three going to the bottom of the seventh inning, Branford scored four times, including a walk off, ground-rule double by Rob Barbash to grab a 6-5 come from behind victory over East Haven at George T. Dummar Jr. Field.
“Good teams win baseball games,” Branford coach Rich Balzano said. “Great teams come back to win baseball games.”
Trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Nick Candelora single to lead off the inning and then Tyler Criscuolo was hit by a Mike Mancuso pitch to put runners on first and second. Devin Derenzo followed with a single to left that closed the gap to 5-3 and put the tying runs on the corners.
East Haven had Dan Petr warming up in the bullpen, but East Haven coach John Longley elected to stick with Mancuso.
“He pitched well all night,’ Longley said. “Their 2-3-4-5 guys are very good and I thought if we got past that we’d be okay. I wanted to give him the opportunity to finish the game.”
It didn’t turn out well for the 89ers as Ben Lacroix belted a single down the right field line that scored both runners and tied things at 5-5.
Two outs later and after a wild pitch advanced Lacroix to second, Barbash cracked a 2-1 pitch over the left field fence on a bounce to score Lacroix and ended the game. At first it was called a home run, but was changed quickly by the field umpire, who ruled it bounced over the fence.
“I was just looking to make contact and get a base hit,” Barbash said. “I was thinking fastball since it was a 2-1 count and he had to bring it to me. It was right in and it turned on it.”
“The middle of our order 1 through 6 is pretty rock solid with veteran players,” Balzano said. “We rely on them to put runs on the board and we just couldn’t do it.”
East Haven had taken a 1-0 lead on an unearned run in the top of the first inning before back-to-back doubles by Criscuolo and Derenzo put Branford ahead, 2-1, in the bottom of the inning.
It remained that way until the fifth inning when they took advantage of three walks by Branford pitcher Devon Lawson, along with a three-run double by Matt Wynne to take a 5-2 lead.
At that point, Balzano brought in D.J. Caron in relief.
“Every time we’ asked him to take the mound, he’s been outstanding,” Balzano said.
Caron ended up going the final 2 1/3 innings to get the win.
Branford improved to 7-1 with the victory and remains tied with Stratford (also 7-1) at the top of the zone, which is surprising to Balzano.
“Yes, I am since we really are a young team,” Balzano said. “In a lot of ways, the veteran players came through tonight.”
Meanwhile, Longley was pleased with the way East Haven played, despite the tough loss.
“The kids played really hard. Branford is a good team, well coached and has some great players,” Longley said. “We’re young, but we battled. That’s all I could ask for.”
BRANFORD 6, EAST HAVEN 5
East Haven – 100 040 0 – 5 5 0
Branford – 200 000 4 – 6 11 3
Batteries: EH: Mike Mancuso and Matt Wynne. BR: T.J. Beaudin, Devon Lawson (3), D.J. Caron (5) and Rob Barbash. 2B: EH – Wynne. BR – Tyler Criscuolo, Devin Derenzo and Barbash. RBI: EH – Wynne (3), Tyler Leone. BR – Ben Lacroix (2), DeRenzo (2), Criscuolo and Barbash. Winning pitcher: Caron. Losing pitcher: Mancuso.
Records: Branford, 7-1; East Haven, 3-5.