ORANGE – Jake Russo and his Orange teammates are accustomed to playing in big games. Having won a state title this past spring with Amity and playing in several pressure-packed contests this summer, Orange is a seasoned team for the postseason in summer play.
Behind the hitting of Russo, Chris Winkel and Matt Ronai, and eight solid innings from Nick Fusco on the hill, eighth-seeded Orange cruised to an 8-3 victory over No. 17 Naugatuck in the opening round of the American Legion Southern Division sectionals Sunday afternoon at Brinley Field.
With the victory, Orange advances in the single-elimination tournament and will play host to No. 9 Meriden, a 6-3 winner over Norwalk, Monday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Orange.
“We definitely have the experience,” Russo said after finishing with three hits, three runs scored and a run batted in. “It was big to get the runs early in the game with a pitcher like Nick on the mound. It helps for the rest of the game.”
Russo and company made quick work of Naugatuck starting pitcher Adam Tavares as Post 127 scored twice in the first inning and five more in the second for a 7-0 lead.
Sebastian DiMauro got things started for Orange with a double to lead off the game, Russo followed with a single to right to score DiMauro and moved to second on the throw. After Russo moved to third on a grounder to first by Winkel, Anthony Capozziello singled to score Russo for a 2-0 advantage.
Post 127 increased the lead to seven runs in the second as Josh Sabitsky singled and scored when Gerald Farace reached on an error. After DiMauro walked and Russo singled to load the bases, Winkel delivered a bases-clearing double for a 6-0 lead.
“We hit the ball well,” Winkel said. “That builds our confidence going into the next game. We are gelling together and playing better together.”
Mike Appel, who made one of three fine defensive plays by the outfield, drove in Winkel with a sacrifice fly for a 7-0 lead.
“We have been hitting the ball lately,” Orange coach Bob Mirto said after his team improved to 24-7. “We played great defensive baseball. We are really starting to gel. It was a different intensity.”
With a comfortable lead, Fusco cruised through the rest of the contest as he allowed just six hits and one walk, while striking out three on just 79 pitches through eight innings of work.
Fusco received fine defensive play behind him, particularly from the outfield, as DiMauro turned a sliding catch into an inning-ending double play in the first. Appel made a tremendous diving catch to rob John Dean of an extra base hit to lead off the sixth and Winkel did the same with a full extension diving catch of a ball hit by Kevin Mariano for the second out of the seventh.
“We made some great plays out there,” Mirto said of his team’s defense. “Sebastian made a great play to get a double play, Appel makes a diving play in right and Winkel lays out to catch a ball in left. It was a well-played game by our defense.”
As Fusco used three double plays to cruise through eight innings, Orange’s offense gave him a little more support in the fourth with another run off reliever Spencer Dreher. Again, Russo and Winkel were at the center of the rally as Russo singled to left and scored on Winkel’s hard-hit double to right.
“We got some big hits today,” Mirto said. “Russo and Winkel did a nice job and we scored early.”
Naugatuck (15-13) finally broke through with three runs in the seventh inning off reliever Brian Ronai to make the final closer.
Chris Anderson hit a one-out single, Richard Plasky followed with another single and Mariano doubled to score Anderson. Scott Sill followed with a double to plate two more runs, before Ronai got the final two outs to end the game.
Ronai and Winkel each had two hits, with Winkel knocking in four runs. DiMauro scored twice for Post 127.