WEST HAVEN – With games ticking off the clock, each become important for the Branford American Legion baseball team. Trailing Hamden by one game in the loss column in a battle for Zone II supremacy, Branford needs to take advantage of its opportunities.
Branford did that and more Thursday evening, turning West Haven miscues into runs, as Branford topped West Haven 6-1 at Piurek Field in West Haven.
With the win, Branford improved to 9-2, trailing first-place Hamden (12-1), and leading both Orange and North Haven with each having a pair of losses as well.
“We know what we are facing going in,” Branford Kyle Heins said. “We go into every game knowing what we are supposed to do. We have kids who work hard and know what it takes. We have been a successful program. Everyone is looking forward to the Orange series. That is going to be a good series with the rivalry.”
While neither defense was particularly sharp, combining for five errors, the pitching of Branford’s Alphonse Suppa was enough to keep the Westies from putting up more than one run.
Suppa allowed just two hits, struck out six, walked one, and worked his way out of trouble early on to help Branford to its ninth win of the year.
“I was able to mix my pitches tonight,” Suppa said. “I mixed my fastball and curve. I mixed it up throughout the lineup. I turn to my defense because I know 99% of the time they are making the plays.”
With the game even at one, Branford took control of the contest with two runs in the third.
Nikko Liguori led off the inning with a single to left, Suppa drew a one-out walk, and Carson Mendoza reached on an error to score Liguori. With a pair of runners in scoring position, Zachary Vandale singled to left to score Suppa for a 3-1 advantage.
“It really helps that we have kids who are committed to playing the game,” Heins said. “We are an older team. The kids play hard and that is all I can ask. We have always been a winning program. Having the talent helps, but the kids know they have to play the right way.”
Branford increased the lead to 4-1 in the fifth when Mendoza launched a long homer to left with one out. Branford put a pair of runners on after the blast, but was unable to score.
The Westies had few opportunities in the contest, but could not capitalize. Trailing 1-0 in the second after Branford’s Stephen Galluba singled to score Robert Barbash, the Westies evened the game.
Mike Vitolo started the rally with a one-out double to center and scored on Stephen Byrd’s single to left. Suppa got out of further trouble with a double play ball to end the inning.
“Our pitching has been fine all year,” West Haven coach Fred Morgillo said. “The pitching has been good enough to win games. It has been good enough to get off the field. We did not have many opportunities to capitalize on tonight.”
West Haven stranded Justin Uribe at second in the third inning, and Ty Reeves at first in the fourth, but went down in order in each of the last three innings.
Branford put the game away with two more runs in the seventh. A double play ball scored pinch-runner Henry Watson, before Brandon Kilfeather reached on an error to score Mendoza, who had singled.
Vandale led Branford with two hits, while Mendoza and Suppa each reached base three times.
Sean Jefferson went 6 2/3 innings for the Westies, allowing nine hits and six runs, while striking out seven and walking two in the loss.