EAST HAVEN – For the better part of the summer season, the top tier of teams in Zone II action, has been Branford, Stratford and Orange.
With a host of teams in the middle of the pack, one of those teams is looking to join the top three as the elite of the zone.
East Haven Post 89 took a step in that direction Thursday evening with a 14-4 victory over Hamden Post 88 in a game stopped in the sixth inning due to the mercy rule at East Haven High.
The victory allowed East Haven to improve to 11-6, just 1.5 games behind Orange for the third spot in Zone II.
“The top three have been Branford, Stratford and Orange this year,” East Haven coach Joe Pelliccia said. “Then, it is a battle between us, Shelton and New Haven. I tell the kids every day, if we win our games, everything will take care of itself. We have to go out and win our games.”
Hamden jumped on the board first with a run in the second inning, courtesy of a two-out rally. Khaleb Cyril singled, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch by East Haven starter Tom Moore.
“These are games where the teams are comparable to us,” Hamden coach Ray Guarino said. “These games can go either way. We would like them to start going our way. We are still learning.”
After taking a 4-0 lead in a game suspended by weather on Wednesday, East Haven made sure there was no question about this contest, scoring eight times in the second inning off Hamden pitcher Jason Rodriguez.
Sending 11 batters to the plate in the inning, Post 89 took command of the contest. Bryon Kucharski started the rally with a single, Joe Criscuolo singled and both moved into scoring position on Peter Grippo’s sacrifice.
Nick Poulin put East Haven in front with a double to score Kucharski and Criscuolo, and Matt Wynne walked. After Rodriguez retired Steven Reynolds on a pop out to short for the second out, East Haven scored six times with two outs.
“That was a big inning for us,” Pelliccia said of the second frame. “We played an inning last night and were up 4-0 before the rain came. We started to swing the bats then. Today, we just kept on going.”
Chris Affinito was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Mike Levine followed with a single to increase the lead and John Kikosicki followed with another single. Kucharski capped the inning when he blasted a long homer to left for an 8-0 advantage.
“We fell behind hitters and we did not play very good defense,” Guarino said after his team fell to 6-13. “We did not get the hits we needed.
“Everything starts with the guy on the hill. That has been our M.O. all year. We get behind on the hitters. We are constantly behind, behind, behind.”
Hamden got within 8-2 in the third inning as Matt Moskal singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Post 89 increased the lead to 9-2 with a run in the bottom of the frame as Grippo led off with a double and came around to score later in the inning.
While the offense was doing its part, Moore was doing enough to keep Hamden from rallying. The East Haven pitcher escaped a bases loaded jam in the top of the fourth when he struck out Matt Barnett to end the inning.
“He is a college player now,” Pelliccia said of Moore. “He is crafty. He does not overpower you. I thought he was a little off tonight. He usually throws more strikes. He gives you a quality outing.”
Post 89 increased the lead to 11-2 in the fourth inning as Kikosicki hit a one-out single, stole second and scored on a single to left by Criscuolo. Rodriguez then hit the next two batters before Criscuolo scored on a passed ball.
Hamden got within 11-4 in the fifth as Moskal doubled and scored on an error, and a double steal plated Eli Camner.
“The kids are having fun,” Guarino said. “They will battle to the end.”
East Haven ended the game with three runs in the sixth as Wynne tripled with two outs to score Grippo and Criscuolo, and Reynolds singled to left to score Wynne with the winner.