BRANFORD >> Heading into this summer, Monroe’s Mike Dellapiano was known more for his fielding than his pitching. Clutch performances by the Masuk graduate have put Dellapiano’s name on the pitching radar.
Dellapiano can add another check in the pitching box as he tossed a complete-game six-hitter, striking out five and walking two to lead 11th-ranked Monroe to an 8-2 victory over third-ranked Branford in the first game of the American Legion Southern Division best of three series at Branford High Wednesday afternoon.
“This is huge,” Monroe coach Bob Pagel said of the series-opening win. “To come in here and play one of the top seeds who is fresh, has been practicing and has their whole pitching staff ready to go is big for us. They have nine pitchers over there. We don’t. We have 14 players who play a number of different positions and can also pitch. Mike (Dellapiano) is usually an outfielder for us. He pitched a great game. He is actually our number four pitcher. He did a great job.”
Monroe, which finished third in Zone V during the regular season and improved to 22-8 with the win, can advance to the Final Four tournament in Middletown this weekend with one win Thursday against the Zone II champion. Branford, 23-6, needs to win twice to advance to this weekend’s action.
“We played Orange last year and lost the first game,” Branford coach Rich Balzano said. “We won two the next day. I think these kids are up to the task. I think we will surprise some people and play better baseball tomorrow.”
Monroe capitalized on what is usually solid pitching and defense by Branford. The opening game was a bit different as three Branford pitchers combined to walk seven batters and allow 12 hits, while the defense committed three errors.
“We usually play a lot better defensively,” Balzano said. “We are not a team which makes a lot of errors. I have to give a lot of credit to them. They hit the ball well and they made the plays. We did not make the plays. Walks and errors did us in today.”
Monroe scored all the runs it would need, taking a 3-0 lead in the second inning off Branford starter Dylan Millhouse.
With one out, Patrick Ryan and Quintin Barker singled, and Matt Romaniello walked to load the bases.
Leadoff hitter Anthony Amoroso followed with a potential double play to short, but the ball was booted by Bryce Baker, allowing Ryan to score for a 1-0 lead.
Jay Buhlmann followed with a single past a diving Tyler Criscuolo at third, scoring Barker and Romaniello for the three-run advantage. Millhouse escaped without further damage as he struck out the next two hitters.
“We got some big hits today,” Pagel said. “But, we also left some runners out there. We left the bases loaded and runners on second and third. We barreled up some pitches today. We did a good job overall.”
Branford had its best opportunity to get back in the game in the bottom of the inning as Chris Stankiewicz and Mike Querfeld reached on infield singles with one out. Dellapiano escaped without a run crossing the plate as he got William Massey looking at a called third strike and saw Nick Candelora fly out to right to end the inning.
“I kept changing speeds,” Dellapiano said. “I throw a knuckleball, a curve and a fastball. I threw them all and just kept changing speeds.”
With Dellapiano shutting down Branford’s offense, Monroe put the game away with a run in the fifth and three more in the sixth.
In the fifth inning, an error, a fielder’s choice and two singles loaded the bases, before Barker walked to force in Paul Marchese for a 4-0 lead. Marchese then doubled to score Buhlmann and Quinlan for a 6-0 lead, before Marchese scored on a wild pitch by reliever Gerald Delise.
“You get a lead and you get more comfortable,” Dellapiano said. “When you are comfortable, you have more fun and that is when you play better.”
Trailing 8-0 after Kyle Horton’s run-scoring single in the top of the seventh, Branford scored its only two runs in the bottom of the inning as Nick Candelora’s fielder’s choice scored Devin DeRenzo and Jordan Botte reached on an error to score Mike Querfeld.
Quinlan led Monroe with three hits, while Cameron Lazar and Ryan each had a pair of hits. Querfeld had two of Branford’s six hits on the day.
Millhouse pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing 10 hits and seven runs, while striking out six and walking