BETHEL >> Hamden Post 88 coach Ray Guarino felt his team needed to have its hitting shoes on Sunday if Post 88 hoped to keep playing in the American Legion postseason.
Guarino’s team did just that, pounding out 12 hits and rallying in the last three innings to defeat fifth-ranked Bethel 7-4 in the final game of the single elimination Southern Division tournament at Bethel High Sunday afternoon.
With the victory, 13th-seeded Hamden, which finished fourth in Zone II, will take on Zone III champion Cheshire in a best of three series starting Wednesday for the right to advance to the final four tournament in Middletown.
“It is nice,” Guarino said after his team improved to 21-11. “We started the season really slow, but I knew we were going to pitch. The bats started really slow, but I think the New Haven series was when we started to wake up a little bit and put it all together as far as pitching, hitting and defense.”
Trailing 1-0 after Bethel scored a first inning run off Hamden starting pitcher Nick Tagliaferri, Post 88 evened the game with a run in the fifth inning.
Avery Shugrue opened the inning getting hit by a Joe Liquori pitch, before Matt Barnett doubled and Eli Camner singled. The hit for Barnett was one of four on the day for the Hamden leadoff hitter.
“We got the hits when we needed to,” Guarino said. “We still left a lot of guys on base. In the first inning, we had runners on second and third and didn’t get anything. But, we were able to get the big hits we needed later in the game.”
Hamden took a 5-1 lead with four runs in the seventh inning. Barnett opened the inning with his third hit of the game and advanced when Camner reached when his attempted sacrifice was misplayed for an error.
Sam Kirschenbaum moved both into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, before an error on a ball hit by Jim Magson scored a run for a 2-1 lead. Christian Colon followed with a single to score a pair and Luke D’Ostilio’s sacrifice fly to center gave Hamden a 5-1 lead.
“We got some big at bats there,” Guarino said of the seventh inning.
Bethel, which finished second in Zone V and was limited to seven hits and one earned run by Tagliaferri in six innings of work, rallied in the seventh off reliever Zach Morgillo. Morgillo, who picked up the save in Saturday’s win against Orange, ran into immediate trouble in the seventh.
Morgillo hit the leadoff hitter to open the seventh and followed with a walk to Michael Parker, before a run-scoring single got Bethel within 5-2. After a fielder’s choice, Sam Czel delivered a pair with a triple to cut the deficit to 5-4.
“We struggled today with our pitching,” Guarino said. “We were not ahead of the hitters and we had to go deep into the counts. They are a very good hitting team. They have a lot of Newtown kids on the team.
We knew they were really good hitters. Our defense picked us up.”
Post 88 increased the lead to 6-4 in the eighth as Barnett led off with a single and scored later in the inning. After Morgillo worked around a leadoff walk in the eighth to retire the next three hitters, Hamden scored an insurance run in the seventh.
D’Ostilio led off with a double, moved to third on Marc Masciantonio’s grounder to first and scored on Shugrue’s sacrifice fly to center.
The two runs in the final two innings proved to be big as Morgillo ran into some trouble in the ninth, hitting the first two batters he faced. Morgillo then settled down to get a fielder’s choice, before striking out David Matthews and retiring Charlie Huegi on a fly ball to left to send Hamden to the victory.
“I thought our defense was tremendous today,” Guarino said. “Our guys struggled today on the mound. We had to play really good defense today. Avery Shugrue made an unbelievable catch early in the game and
turned around to double up their guy. Matt Barnett tracks a ball down in left center that I thought was a double or triple off the bat. He took a great route to it. We made some nice plays today.”
Camner finished with two hits for Hamden as Post 88 had eight different players with hits on the day.