HAMDEN — Baseball is a funny game. Just one break can turn an inning or a game around.
Both the Bethel and Hamden American Legion baseball teams saw that Saturday.
With Bethel pitcher Kyle Roche holding Hamden scoreless through four innings and seemingly on his way to a quiet fifth, a would be second out by way of a strikeout was turned into a runner on base for Hamden following a wild pitch on the third strike and Post 88 exploded from there.
Scoring four times in the fifth inning, Hamden Post 88 rallied to defeat Bethel 4-2 Saturday at Hamden High school in the Pod E opening round of the state tournament.
Hamden (18-4) advanced to play Southington in the second round on Sunday, also at Hamden High at a time to be determined due to projected inclement weather.
Trailing 1-0 in the fifth after Bethel had scored in the top of the inning, Hamden looked as if it would go quietly when Matt Wendland struck out. The ball skipped away from Bethel catcher Benjamin Harrison for a wild pitch, and Wendland just beat the throw to first.
“That was huge,” Hamden coach Ray Guarino said. “It was still a bang-bang play at first. I am happy he (Wendland) had the baseball acumen to get down the base line.”
Mike Aceto followed with a single to left, and Tyler Osborne singled to right to plate Wendland and even the game at one. After Jake Pisano walked to load the bases, Mike Ferrett smoked a single to right to score Aceto and Osborne for a 3-1 lead.
“It is weird like high school,” Ferrett said. “The fifth inning has always been our lucky inning in every game. It seems like we need our third round of our at bats to get going. We executed in the clutch and got some big hits. We have been very resilient throughout the year. We do not give up. When we get down, we don’t panic. We stay positive. We just believe.”
Roche cruised through four innings, needing only 53 pitches to hold Post 88 scoreless. He threw over half of that amount in the fifth as he finished with 30 pitches in the inning and allowed another run-scoring single to Ron Desroches to score Pisano and give Hamden a 4-1 lead
“We expected that out of Kyle (Roche),” Bethel coach Josh Hull said of Roche’s first four plus innings. “He has been able to do that this year.”
With Post 88 in the lead, the rest was up to Hamden starter Brendan Kirck. While Kirck allowed a run-scoring double to Harrison in the sixth, he was able to strike out the next two batters before Desroches gunned down Harrison at the plate following a single to left by Bob Murray.
“I did not have my stuff early,” Kirck said. “I was able to get the out in the situations I needed to. I have a good defense behind me. It makes me throw more strikes, trusting them behind me. Ron Desroches made an amazing throw out there.”
Kirck’s day was done after throwing six effective innings, scattering 10 hits, while striking out six and not walking a batter. Henry Bielen pitched a quiet seventh, working around a two-out error to save the game for Post 88.
“I thought Brendan (Kirck) was not as sharp as I have seen him before, but he is a bulldog out there,” Hamden coach Ray Guarino said. “He has always been a bulldog. I will take Brendan Kirck out there any day of the week. He grinds it out.”
Bethel had its share of opportunities to score against Kirck, stranding a runner in scoring position in the second, and putting a pair on in the fourth with one out. An alert Stephen Richetelli nailed Robert Lombardo trying to steal third as part of a double steal for the second out, before Kirck struck out Josh Taylor to end the threat.
“I am happy with the way we never gave in,” Guarino said. “We never quit. That is a testament to this team.”
Bethel finally got on the board in the fifth as a two-out single by William Huegi scored Andrew Ridzik.
Roche went the distance for Bethel on 90 pitches, allowing four runs on six hits, walking four and striking out three.
Hamden 4, Bethel 2
Bethel000 011 0 — 2 10 0
Hamden000 040 x — 4 6 1
B: Kevin Roche (L) and Benjamin Harrison; H: Brendan Kirck (W), Henry Bielen (7) and Stephen Richetelli; Records: Bethel 15-10; Hamden 18-4.