BRANFORD — With Nick Fusco and Ross Weiner the 1-2 pitching punch for Orange Post 127, Doug Rives was almost the forgotten man.
But Rives made his presence felt big-time Wednesday afternoon with a five-hit shutout as Orange blanked defending Northeast Regional champion Branford Post 83, 3-0, in Game 1 of their best-of-three series in the Connecticut South Sectional Legion baseball tournament at the James MacVeigh Alumni Athletic Complex.
“I just come out here to throw, and have fun doing it,” Rives said. “We got some great defensive plays. That (Branford) is an awesome hitting team.”
Rives, who will be a senior at Amity in the fall, struck out seven and walked just one batter. He allowed just two Branford runners to reach second base in the entire game. Not too shabby for a righthander whom Orange coach Bob Mirto said is his No. 4 starter.
“He’s our No. 4, but in terms of having command, he has better command than anyone,” Mirto said. “I had a feeling this morning he was going to throw a gem. When he got here, he said he wanted this bad.”
Over the last two American Legion Zone 2 baseball seasons, Orange hadn’t beaten Branford once, dropping all six contests.
But for a while, Rives was barely being one-upped by Branford righty Mike Schettino, who didn’t allow a hit for 6 2/3 innings. With two out, Mike Appel lined a single to right. Designated hitter Devin Belenski followed by lining a double down the right field line as Appel scored the first run of the afternoon. Josh Sabitsky followed with a single to center, but Branford centerfielder Kyle Hart three Belenski out at the plate to end the inning.
However, Belenski barreled over Branford catcher B.J. Massey and was ejected for it. Belenski is expected to miss Game 2 of the series Thursday as a result of the ejection.
Schettino was uncharacteristically wild in the eighth inning. He allowed singles to both Gerald Farace and Zach Chamberlain, but then uncorked three wild pitches to allow both runners to score as Orange took a 3-0 edge.
Rives allowed just an infield hit by Nick Perrelli in the ninth inning before shutting the door.
“I threw my slider for a couple strikeouts, but I was locating my fastball well,” said Rives. “I also threw a couple curves to mix it up as well. You just have to stay calm and throw your pitches.”
Branford coach Rich Balzano said his team had a flat day.
“We weren’t ourselves today and did a number of things incorrectly,” Balzano said. “We swung at ball four, took strike three and couldn’t get the leadoff man on at all. But they just played a better game than us. They didn’t make any mistakes.”
Orange (26-7) will send ace Nick Fusco to the mound at 2 p.m. Thursday in Game 2 of the series, while Branford (29-2) will try and push the series to a deciding third game with Dylan Millhouse.
If Orange wins, it will move on in the South Sectional tournament starting Sunday at Cubeta Stadium Stamford.. If Branford wins Game 2, the third and deciding game will follow at 5 p.m.