BETHEL—The Hamden Junior Legion team made a living on squeaking out close games against quality opponents in Zone 2, building a 17-4 record before going on to win their pod to advance to the state quarterfinals.
Hamden didn’t need any of that close game magic the way the bats were swinging Tuesday.
Booking a place in the state semifinals for the first time in coach Luke Devoe’s six seasons with the squad, Hamden mashed its way to a 9-2 win over host Bethel in the Southern Division matchup at Hunt Field. Hamden (21-4) will meet Stamford for a spot in Sunday’s championship game.
The seven-run margin was the largest all summer for Hamden.
“We just had a lot of momentum and got a lot of guys on base,” said Hamden leadoff hitter Ethan Shepard, who had two hits. “We like to have good energy going into the game and we really just exploded in the first inning; we’ve all had bats going at different times, but it just came together.”
Hamden broke out for five runs in the first two innings to immediately take control, then watched as John Lindberg threw a complete game.
Bethel scored twice in the fourth to pull to within 5-2, but left two more on base in addition to leaving the bases loaded in the second. A leadoff triple by Sammy Smith was also left unrewarded as Lindberg retired three straight.
“We had chances when it was 5-0 and 5-2 to come back and we put ourselves in a hole by not getting anyone home,” said Bethel coach Andrew Guercio. “Leaving the bases loaded with one out and a leadoff triple that didn’t score.”
Hamden sealed the win in the seventh with another big frame, scoring four runs. Matthew Desroches had a pair of hits for Hamden, including a two-run double in the second inning.
Hamden — which only has one rising senior — mashed six hits over the first two frames, but also scored several of its runs by being aggressive on the base paths. Hamden executed double steals that plated runs in both the first and second innings to set the tone.
“We saw the delivery to the plate was a little bit slower and we were able to get some pretty good jumps and kept guys moving,” Devoe said. “And at this level any time you put the pressure on the other team to make a play; that’s kind of been our MO all year.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
John Lindberg, Hamden: Entering the game with a 5-0 record and an ERA less than 1.00 this summer, Lindberg shut down a tough Bethel lineup that scored 17 runs on Sunday over two games to beat East Haven and reach the quarters.
“He’s been rock solid for us all summer,” Devoe said. “He did what he’s done all year and kept it simple. He keeps teams off balance and he’s just rock solid. It’s a group of boys who believe despite being considerably younger than the other teams (left).”
As one of the top programs in the state at all Legion levels. Stamford presents a tough challenge for Hamden in Wednesday’s semis. The winner will be crowned Southern Division champions.
“Stamford has always kind of been the powerhouse at 15s, 17s and 19s,” Devoe said. “We watched their (1-0 win over Greenwich in the other quarterfinal at Hunt), they’re big, they’re old; they don’t make any mistakes.”
HAMDEN 9, BETHEL 2
HAMDEN230 000 4 — 9 9 1
BETHEL000 200 0 — 2 7 2
Batteries: H—John Lindberg and John D’Errico; B—Josh Taylor, Sammy Smith and Pete Baia. Records: Hamden 21-4, Bethel 27-3.