SHELTON — As the innings kept going on and on and no one came close to scoring, it was obvious it was going to take something out of the ordinary to end the Zone 2 battle between Branford and Shelton.
And that’s exactly what happened as Branford finally broke a scoreless deadlock by taking advantage of a wild pitch in the top of the 15th inning and beat Shelton, 1-0.
Branford (27-1, including two forfeit wins it will collect Friday from West Haven), has clinched the top seed in the state tournament. Post 83 has two games left with Shelton to complete their season. One is Thursday night at Shelton, with the other Saturday morning at Branford High.
“We want to win every game, even if we’re playing a Little League team,” Branford coach Rich Balzano said. “Our pitchers did their job. We just need to get better offensively.”
Meanwhile, it was a huge loss for Shelton (13-13), which is in a dogfight with New Haven for the fifth and final state tournament berth in Zone 2. Post 16 has four games remaining.
“It hurt a lot,” Shelton coach Steve Boles said. “We came into this week thinking we need to beat Branford once and then Milford and New Haven to have a chance.”
Branford scored the only run of the night when Shelton reliever Pat Murphy walked two batters and reached a 2-0 count on Post 83 leadoff hitter Mike Funaro. At that point, Shelton coach Steve Boles pulled Murphy in favor of C.J. Rizzo with one out. However, Rizzo walked Funaro to fill the bases.
Rizzo got Tyler Criscuolo to pop up for the second out of the inning before he uncorked a wild pitch that Shelton catcher Mark Zoppi couldn’t reach as Alex King scored with the eventual winning run.
Vin Backert was a workhorse for Shelton as he pitched 12 innings of scoreless baseball. He allowed five hits and walked two, both of those coming in the 11th inning, while throwing close to 130 pitches.
“I monitored him very closely,” Boles said. “He hadn’t pitched in a week, but I was very cognizant of how many pitches he threw. I asked him after every inning how he was.”
Meanwhile, Branford’s Dylan Millhouse and Mike Schettino were just as good, if not better. Millhouse allowed two hits in eight innings, while Schettino didn’t allow a hit in seven innings and fanned 10 batters in relief. He stranded four runners that reached on walks and a couple hit by pitches. Shelton didn’t have a hit after the fifth inning.
“I just wanted to throw strikes,” Schettino said. “It was good to see we could win a game like this before the state tournament comes around.”
Both teams had a runner reach third base in the first inning, but failed to do it again until Branford scored the winning run in the 15th.
“Anytime you don’t give up any runs, as far as i can tell, it’s good,” Balzano said. “We didn’t hit tonight. We were first ball hitters tonight.”