ORANGE >> Annex manager Sal Punzo admitted he took a gamble by replacing pitcher Nate Furino with a four-run lead in the bottom of the third inning against Norwalk Friday.
A victory over Norwalk would send the New Haven team to the Division I Little League tournament championship, where it would have to defeat Fairfield twice to capture the title.
Punzo knew he was looking ahead a bit but he wanted to save his ace if Annex advanced. But Norwalk scored 11 times after Furino left the mound and earned a 15-12 victory at Roche Field.
“I took a chance and took Furino out,” Punzo said. “I was looking to win three games, not just one. We had the four-run lead. I rolled the dice hoping I could use the other kids on my staff to get through the game. I figured we were going to score runs too, but they (Norwalk) came out on top. They made a few more plays, they made a few more pitches. It didn’t work out.”
Norwalk faces Fairfield today at 4 p.m. Should Norwalk win, the two will play for the championship on Sunday at 4.
A two-run home run by Shane Popkins tied the game at 12 for Norwalk ,and then Jack DeLeo’s two-run homer gave Norwalk the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth inning. Michael Boyian added an RBI single as part of a five-run fifth inning that allowed Norwalk to stave off elimination.
“Our bats have been going, going, going,” Norwalk manager Paul Boyian said. “This is what we do. We’re ready to go at Fairfield (today) just like this. These kids are amazing, all the way through they’re hitting.”
The game saw seven lead changes and eight home runs.
Noah Ferrucci started the game for Annex but lasted just 1.1 innings and left with his team leading 4-3. In came Furino, who surrendered an RBI single to Boyian that tied the game at 4 after two.
In the top of the third, Annex took an 8-4 lead on Ferrucci’s grand slam.
Norwalk had a single and drew a walk off Furino to open the bottom of the third and that’s when Punzo pulled Furino. DeLeo, the first batter Annex reliever John Ruggeiro faced, drilled a three-run home run to cut the lead to 8-7. Norwalk would score three more times in the inning to take a 10-8 lead after three.
Furino threw just 20 pitches, meaning he could have thrown the full 85 allowed under the pitching rule had Annex advanced to today’s contest.
“When we had the four-run lead, we made the decision to go for it,” Punzo said. “If we were behind, we would’ve kept him in.”
An RBI single by Steve Mingione, followed by a three-run home run by Ant DePino gave Annex a 12-10 lead in the top of the fifth inning, but Norwalk rallied in the bottom half of the inning to advance.