BRANFORD — Cheshire is getting just enough offense to back a great start by its pitching staff this spring.
The Rams (4-1 and ranked third in the GameTimeCT.com Top 10 poll) have yet to give up more than three runs in a game and continued that streak Friday with a 4-2 victory over Branford in a Southern Connecticut Conference contest at George T. Dummar Jr. Field.
Hand (5-0) is the last team left in the SCC that hasn’t suffered a loss in the first two weeks of the season. The Rams are one of five teams with just one blemish so there is a lot of parity in the SCC so far.
“I’m very happy at 4-1,” Cheshire coach Bill Mrowka said. “You have to be ready. It’s going to be a dogfight in this conference.”
Cheshire got a good performance on the mound from senior southpaw Ben Shadeck (2-0), who struck out eight, while allowing just four hits and a walk over the first six innings. He faced the minimum number of hitters over the first 3 2/3 innings before Branford finally got to him in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“I was working away with the fastball to all the hitters,” Shadeck said. “I also trusted my catcher (Matt Costello) with blocking off-speed pitches if they went in the dirt.”
Shadeck helped himself out at the plate in the third inning when Cheshire got to Branford righthander Carson Mendoza, who got behind in the count and left the ball up in the strike zone.
Paul Villecco was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and then Ben Schena singled to left. Ryan Strollo followed with a perfect bunt that went for an infield single, loading the bases. Ben DeLaubell drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to center. Shadeck followed with a two-run single to leftcenter to make it 3-0.
Branford got one back in the fourth when Mendoza singled to center and Alphonse Suppa ripped a run-scoring double down the left field line.
Shadeck didn’t allow another run until the sixth inning when D. J. Caron singled and Mendoza roped a triple to right-center to close the gap to 3-2. The Rams pitched around Suppa, walking him on four pitches, before getting Rob Barbash to fly out on a 3-1 pitch to end the threat.
“I just wanted to get ahead and focus on the next pitch,” Shadeck said. “I don’t worry about what happened before as you can’t change the past.”
Shadeck helped himself again in the top of the seventh off Branford reliever Noah Jerolman when he doubled to right to score pinch runner Matt Siegel all the way from first.
“I eyed the ball up well all day,” Shadeck said. “The last one he hung a fastball to me.”
Cheshire reliever Rob Roles retired the side in order in the bottom of the seventh to record his second save.
Branford (2-4) has struggled at the at the plate in its six games. The Hornets have scored more than four runs only once and have been held to three or less three times.
“We’re not hitting,” Branford coach Steve Malafronte said. “If you look at our scores, we’re in every game. Our magic number is five. If we score five runs, we have a very good chance of winning that game. If we can get to five, we’ll be there. We have to find a way to score some runs.”
Malafronte said the Hornets’ inexperience isn’t helping.
“In a lot of cases, we’re beating ourselves,” he said. ‘The reality is we lost our starting shortstop, third baseman, centerfielder and leftfielder. Yes, we return guys, but the guys filling in are new without any varsity experience.”
CHESHIRE 4, BRANFORD 2
CHESHIRE 003 000 1—4 8 2
BRANFORD 000 101 0—2 4 0
Records: Cheshire 4-1; Branford 2-4. Batteries: C – Ben Shadeck, Rob Roles (7) and Matt Costello. B – Carson Mendoza, Noah Jerolman (7) and Rob Barbash. Winning pitcher: Shadeck (2-0), Save: Roles (2). Losing pitcher Mendoza. Higlights: 2B: C – Shadeck, Ian Battipaglia. B – Alphonse Suppa. 3B: B – Mendoza. RBI: C – Shadeck (3), Ryan Strollo. B – Mendoza, Suppa.