SHELTON >> Approaching the middle of the summer season, both the Milford and Shelton American Legion baseball teams know it is time to kick things into another gear.
Scoring three times in the first inning on just one hit, and riding the pitching of Adam Antonini, Milford Post 196 defeated Shelton 4-1 Thursday evening in the opening game of a Zone II doubleheader in Shelton.
“We came out here knowing we had to win to get to .500,” Antonini said after Milford improved to 9-9 and inched closer to third place Shelton. “We came in with the mindset of we want to sweep the day. We want to get to the playoffs. This win helps us. It helps a lot when you have the lead before you go to the mound. It really helps me do different things.”
Post 96 secured the ninth win of the season with the game’s biggest rally in the first inning off Shelton starter Mark Polkowski.
Tyler Kasuba, Cheech Giustino and R.J. Jackson opened the contest with walks to load the bases and Mike Bevino delivered Kasuba with a grounder to second. With two outs, Mackenzie Taylor walked to load the bases and Ryan Muir followed with a single to score Giustino and Jackson for a 3-0 lead.
“We have not been driving in anybody, so it was big,” Milford coach Cliff Bugyi said of Muir’s two-run single in the first. “Our pitching has been strong and the defense has been okay most of the time. We have not hit. It was a nice start for us.
Polkowski settled down from there, finishing with a four-hitter. The Shelton pitcher finished with seven walks and a strikeout, but the damage was done in the opening inning.
“The walks hurt us,” Shelton coach Steve Boles said. “We got off to a tough start. We have to hit though. We did not hit and we did not have timely hits when we had the opportunities. We didn’t hit in critical times. We didn’t hit the ball hard. We need to be able to push their outfield back.”
Antonini, who finished with a five-hitter, striking out five and walking two, cruised early, retiring the first 10 batters of the game, before Matt Coppola singled to left with one out in the fourth. Paul Salley followed with an infield single and Hudson Boles singled to center to load the bases with one out.
Antonini walked Marc Zoppi to force in Coppola, but the Milford pitcher escaped without further damage as he struck out Urbani and got Polkowski on a fly ball to center.
“We have to get going,” Steve Boles said. “We have a few injuries and a few guys on vacation. We have to get back to full speed. We have 17 games left. We need to make a move. We need to hit the ball better and get some timely hits.”
Antonini, who has previously pitched a no-hitter this season, allowed a single to Jake Camp in the fifth which put a pair of runners on, but Antonini got Coppola to hit into a double play to end the inning.
“He has thrown very well for us all season,” Bugyi said. “He throws strikes and he has decent command with the breaking ball. He did not have great stuff tonight, but it was good enough.”
Milford took a 4-1 lead in the top of the sixth as an error and two walks proved costly to Shelton when Jackson singled to left to score Muir, who had reached on an error to start the frame.
Shelton had one last chance to even the game in the seventh as Urbani led off with an infield single, but Antonini followed with a strikeout and a double play grounder to end the game.
Bevino led Milford with two hits and a run batted in.