WOODBRIDGE — For those in the Southern Connecticut Conference that snickered when the Amity Spartans opened the season with three straight losses, they might want to hide those smiles. The next 11 games have been more of what Amity is used to.
Thursday afternoon at Amity High was an indication of the direction the Spartans are headed as they scored four times in the first inning and rode the solid pitching of Mike Appel and Doug Rives to a 7-0 victory over East Haven.
“We are starting to see it,” Amity coach Sal Coppola said of his team that improved to 9-5. “We were making a lot of mistakes early in the season. We are still making mistakes, but they are less and less. We look like we are on the right page.”
Appel was a pleasant surprise for Coppola as he returns from an injured ankle. He went 4 1/3 innings, allowing just one run, while striking out three and walking one.
“He has been out all year with a broken ankle,” Coppola said of Appel. “He had pitched two innings in a J.V. game. I thought he looked great. He was throwing pretty hard and he did not walk many guys.”
Appel faced the minimum nine batters through three innings, allowing a single to Mike DeAngelo in the second that he erased with a double play ground ball. Appel retired 12 of the 14 batters he faced, before being lifted with a high pitch count in the fifth.
The Spartans gave Appel all the run support he needed with four runs in the first inning. East Haven starter Brandon Palm walked Sebastian DiMauro to lead off the game then left the contest with an apparent injury after throwing three balls to Jake Russo.
Daniel Petr relieved Palm and completed the walk, before walking Anthony Capozziello to load the bases. Chris Winkel grounded to second to score DiMauro and advanced two runners into scoring position, before Kyle Mattei singled to score two more runs.
Elias Oliphant closed the scoring in the first inning when his grounder went for an infield single to score Mattei, who went to second on a passed ball and third on a wild pitch.
“Those runs were really important,” Coppola said of the first inning. “Any time you can score first, it makes you feel more confident. We were aggressive before we had the lead, but it takes the pressure off.”
Petr escaped any damage over the next two innings, stranding Russo, who singled, in the second and got out of a man on third with no one out jam in the third as third baseman Tyler Gaudino fielded a grounder and tagged Winkel at third.
Amity took a commanding 6-0 lead with two more runs in the fourth inning. Gerald Farace reached on an error and DiMauro walked. With runners on second and third and one out, a wild pitch brought in one run and a sacrifice fly by Winkel delivered DiMauro for a 6-0 lead.
“He (Winkel) had some big at bats today,” Coppola said of Winkel. “He started the season completely red hot, then went into a little slump. But, the last three games, he has six or seven hits.”
Playing with the lead from the start, Amity turned to its defense as well. Russo turned an impressive double play in the second on a grounder by Pete Grippo, Oliphant made a nice catch on a fly ball by Gaudino in the third and Matt Ronai made two nice plays on ground balls in the fourth.
“We had some bumps in the beginning of the season,” Coppola said. “We just said, in the end, it is going to be out pitching and defense which has to come together along with our hitting. We have limited our walks and now we are playing solid defense.
“When you look at our state championship teams, we won by scores of 2-0, 6-0 or 3-1. It is the team which gives up the least amount of runs and plays solid defense which wins.”
Mattei led Amity with two hits and two RBIs, while Oliphant had a pair of hits and drove in one run.
East Haven fell to 8-6 with the loss.