ORANGE >> It is often said pitching, defense and timely hitting will win plenty of games. Just ask the Branford Post 83 American Legion baseball team.
Scoring once in the top of the 10th inning and escaping a jam that saw Orange Post 127 with two runners in scoring position and no one out in the bottom of the inning, Branford defeated Orange 3-2 in 10 innings at Brinley Field Tuesday night.
With the victory, Branford swept the season series from Orange and remained on top of Zone II with a 16-0 record. Orange fell to 12-4, with three of those losses against Branford.
“This is why our kids play American Legion baseball,” Branford coach Rich Balzano said. “It is to play Orange in Orange in games like this. They are a very good team and are very well-coached. It is great to play in these games.”
After Orange squandered numerous opportunities off Branford starter Mike Schettino in the latter part of the game, Branford scored the eventual winner in the 10th off Sebastian DiMauro.
Tyler Criscuolo led off with a walk and moved to second when a pickoff attempt was not handled. Brandon Wynne followed with a single to center.
With Mike Appel charging, the ball skipped under his glove, allowing Criscuolo to score and Wynne to advance to second.
“This is huge,” Wynne said. “We wanted to sweep Orange. This is a big win for us.”
DiMauro escaped without any further damage and was part of a rally in the bottom of the 10th that looked like it would give Post 127 its first victory of the year over Branford.
With a runner on, DiMauro hit an infield single and Branford pitcher Sean Halligan balked to move a pair of runners into scoring position with no one out.
“Second and third and no outs, you think you are going to win,” Orange coach Bob Mirto said.
That was as far as they got.
Halligan escaped, striking out Appel looking and getting Chris Winkel on a grounder to short, with the lead runner cut down at the plate.
With runners on the corners, Halligan ended any hopes of a comeback when he got Matt Ronai on a comebacker to end the contest.
“Our pitching came up big tonight,” Balzano said. “We were on the edge all game.”
With Branford leading 2-0, Orange chipped away to even the game with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
Matt Ronai led off the fifth with a walk and Devin Belenski looked like he hit a double play ball, but when Schettino threw off the mark at second, both runners were safe.
Gerald Farace followed with a sacrifice to put two runners in scoring position and Josh Sabitsky lifted a sacrifice fly to right to score Ronai. Schettino escaped further damage, getting Brian Ronai to pop to short with the tying run on third.
In the sixth, DiMauro singled to left, and Appel walked. Winkel then ripped a laser off the fence in left to score DiMauro, but Appel held at third.
With two runners in scoring position and one out, Schettino settled in and escaped without any further damage, striking out Matt Ronai looking and Belenski swinging.
“We left too many guys on,” Mirto said. “We had some terrible at bats in certain situations and we made some base running mistakes. But, all in all, we showed some guts out there.”
Orange looked like it would score the winner in the eighth. With two outs, Appel singled and saw Winkel rip another laser off the fence in left.
A perfect relay on the play cut down Appel at the plate and sent the game to the ninth inning where Post 127 again had a golden opportunity to pull out the victory.
Two out walks to Farace and Sabitsky had Orange in business, but Halligan got Brian Ronai on a pop out to short to end the threat.