ORANGE >> Hamden Post 88 pitcher Zach Morgillo was well aware of who was on deck in the bottom of the ninth with the tying and winning runs on base and two outs for Orange.
With number three hitter Chris Winkel waiting and a 3-2 count on Lou DeGennero, Morgillo’s curveball froze DeGennero for the final out of a 2-1 Hamden victory over Orange in the opening round of the American Legion Southern Division tournament at Brinley Field in Orange Saturday afternoon.
The win lifted 13th-seeded Hamden to the second and final game of the single elimination tournament, where Post 88 will travel to play fifth-seeded Bethel Sunday afternoon. The winner of Sunday’s contest will play Cheshire in a best of three series this week for the right to go to the final four tournament in Middletown.
“This team started the season slow, but I knew we had more in the tanks,” Hamden coach Ray Guarino said after his team improved to 20-11. “We had the middle of the season where we were able to rattle off some wins. All their hard work has come to fruition.”
While Morgillo provided the last inning dramatics, Hamden starter Tyler Mitchell was the difference in the game. The lefty threw eight innings against a predominantly lefty Orange lineup and allowed just one unearned run on five hits, while striking out 12 and walking three.
“My fastball had some velocity today,” Mitchell said. “That is one of the best teams in the state. They are a very good team. It feels good to beat Orange.”
Mitchell only had to work out of trouble in three innings and used the strikeout to bail him out of each.
After Mike Appel doubled with two outs in the second for Orange, Mitchell struck out DeGennero looking for the final out of the inning.
A walk to Chris Winkel and a single by Pat Winkel had two runners on with no outs in the fourth, but Mitchell struck out Matt Ronai and Eli Oliphant, and got Devin Belenski on a grounder to short to end the
“We got beat by a tough pitcher today,” Orange coach Bob Mirto said of Mitchell after Orange ended the season 21-10. “He mixed his pitches very well and he did not lose any velocity even after throwing 119 pitches. He threw very well. We did not deliver in the few situations we had. It was a good ball game, a crisp ball game.”
Trailing 2-0, Orange scored its only run of the game in the fifth, but Mitchell escaped with just the one run allowed.
After Oliphant reached on an error by Jim Magson at short to open the fifth and moved to second on a sacrifice, Mitchell struck out Appel, but DeGennero singled to right to score Oliphant to cut the Orange deficit to 2-1. Chris Winkel followed with an infield single, but Mitchell did not allow another run as he got Pat Winkel on a pop out to the mound.
“He was outstanding today,” Guarino said of Mitchell. “He was gutsy. He threw 119 pitches. I couldn’t ask for anything more from him.”
Hamden got on the board first against Orange pitcher Doug Rives, taking a 1-0 lead in the third inning.
With two outs, Eli Camner, Sam Kirschenbaum and Magson singled to load the bases.
Rives appeared to have Camner picked off third, but Camner eluded the tag in a run down, then scored when Ronai’s throw got by Pat Winkel at home. Kirschenbaum attempted to also score on the play, but an alert Pat Winkel beat Kirschenbaum to the plate and applied the tag for the final out of the inning.
After stranding Christian Colon on third in the fourth inning, Hamden took a 2-0 lead in the fifth. Avery Shugrue was hit by a pitch to start the frame, moved to second on a sacrifice by Matt Barnett and scored one out later on Magson’s single to center. Guarino said.
The rest was up to Mitchell and Morgillo. Mitchell stranded Evan Lumpinski, who singled in the sixth, with a pair of strikeouts to end the frame, then stranded another Orange runner in the seventh.
After Mitchell worked a perfect eighth, his day was done after 119 pitches, giving way to Morgillo in the ninth.
Morgillo walked Jake Smith to open the inning. After Smith moved to second on a sacrifice by Oliphant, Morgillo struck out Max Scheps, before hitting Appel to put the winning run on base.
With a 3-2 count on DeGennero, Morgillo snuck the curve in for a called third strike to help Hamden advance past its Zone II rival.
“It was a gutsy call,” Morgillo said. “I stuck to it and threw it. I knew Winkel was on deck. I threw it and it worked out in our favor. I am happy we won for Tyler Mitchell. He pitched a great game for us.
Rives went eight innings for Orange, allowing two runs on eight hits, while walking two and striking out five. Magson led Hamden with three hits and a run batted in.
“They are a good team,” Mirto said of Hamden. “They have gotten better as the season went along. They were probably the best team in the zone the second half of the season.”