ORANGE – With the postseason all but a formality for both the Orange and Branford American Legion baseball teams, and first place in Zone II out of reach, the final few days of the regular season can cause plenty of headaches for the coaching staffs.
While trying to win to get the highest possible seed from the zone, both coaches are also aware fresh arms will be needed come Saturday when the postseason begins.
Branford coach Rich Balzano was able to come out on top on both sides as his team used three different pitchers in a 7-2 victory over Orange at Brinley Field Wednesday evening.
“At this point, we want to make sure our pitchers are ready,” Balzano said after his team improved to 15-10. “From this point on, you will see non-pitchers pitching.”
Branford, which currently resides in fourth place in Zone II, was able to take control of the game with three runs in each of the second and third innings to take a commanding 6-2 lead. An alert pickoff play allowed Branford to stay in front.
Leading 3-2, Branford watched as Orange opened the bottom of the second with three consecutive walks off starter Mike Keinz and had a run in when Eli Oliphant stole third and scored on an error on the play.
With two runners on and a big inning looming for Post 127, Keinz picked off Max Scheps for the first out of the inning.
After Chase Bursinski walked, Lou DeGennero singled to score Ron LoRicco. Brian Ronai followed with a walk to load the bases, but Alphonse Suppa relieved Keinz and got Pat Winkel to ground into an inning-ending double play.
“We work hard on our pick plays,” Balzano said. “If we can get one or two outs in key situations, that’s big for us. That was certainly a key situation.”
Balzano got the second pick play he hoped for in the final inning. With the bases loaded and Orange threatening against Nick Candelora, Branford picked Al Smith off first to end the game.
“We are anxious to get the playoffs started,” Orange coach Bob Mirto said after his team fell to 17-9. “We have played four doubleheaders in three days. It does not surprise me we had the ‘Blahs.’”
Branford jumped on Orange starter Mike Ficaro with three runs in the second. Candelora singled with two outs to give Branford a 3-0 lead, and Tyler Criscuolo walked to load the bases. Ficaro escaped without any further damage when he got Devin DeRenzo on a liner to second.
With a 3-2 lead, Branford took control of the contest with three more runs in the third.
Barbash was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to score Jordan Botte, who started the inning with an infield single, and Will Coleman’s fielder’s choice grounder scored Trevor Brown. Criscuolo’s walk with the bases loaded scored Brandon Kilfeather to put Branford on top by four runs.
“This is a good win for us against a quality team,” Balzano said. “It is always good to get a win against a quality team. We didn’t want to use too much pitching so we cut it up. They did a good job.”
Suppa pitched well in relief as he retired Orange in order in the fourth and sixth innings, and got out of a fifth inning jam by getting Rohan Patel on a comebacker to the mound with Ronai on third.
“We did not really hit tonight,” Mirto said. “We had a chance at that big inning in the second, but we got a runner picked off. Who knows what that could have led to.”
Branford added an insurance run in the fifth when Kilfeather opened the inning with a single and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Candelora.
Coleman had two hits and drove in a run for Branford, while Candelora knocked in three. DeGennero and Ronai each had two hits for Post 127.