Junior Legion: Post 196 17U falls in state tourney

Milford Post 196’s Junior American Legion 17U baseball team was hoping to defy the odds last Thursday night in its state tournament elimination home game against Branford.

The team come into the contest at Ken Walker Field having beaten Branford three times already in the 2017 season, the latest being an 8-5 victory the previous Monday. An 11-0 loss the night before at Stamford had put the team in the precarious position of needing to win or seeing its season end. Branford entered off an 8-7 victory over Oxford.

Milford's hopes of staying alive, however, ended when Branford hitters rapped out 10 hits in a 9-4 triumph, which sent them into a weekend encounter with unbeaten Stamford.

Coach Mike Merchant's players were unable to get untracked offensively, as a hitting proficiency which had been there for most of the season vanished.

"Their (Branford's) approach at the plate was so much better than ours was tonight," said Merchant, whose team finished its season with a 12-9 record. “They did things to us tonight that they hadn't been able to do in those three other games. They sprayed balls to all field, they just outmatched us."

Merchant chose to go with lefthander Jack Greenspan in the crucial game.

Greenspan played at Foran this past spring.

His off-speed pitches and assortment of breaking balls kept Branford at bay for awhile, even though the visitors loaded the bases in the first inning, a frame in which they weren't able to score.

Meanwhile, Milford used catcher Justin DeEll's RBI double to right center in the bottom half of the inning to take a 1-0 lead, before adding a run in the second on Garrett Tutlis' base hit.

From there, however, Milford hitters struggled against Branford's Mason Traca, who worked into the sixth while throwing 95 pitches, his game limit.

In between, Branford scored three times in the fourth and adding five more runs in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead.

"After that first inning I was thinking that this would be a repeat of some of our previous games," said Branford coach Mike Krause. "We tend to struggle in the early innings. But once we got going tonight, we were in good shape. We got a good team effort and the kids worked hard out there. We all know who hard it is for a team to beat another team four times in a season. Maybe that was playing on our side tonight a little."

Branford got two hits apiece from Aidan Ricciardelli, Dan Lear and Augie Guglielmo and a big, pinch-hit, two-run double from Tyler Sibling in the five-run fifth. Ricciardelli drove in half of Branford's run with five RBI.

But it was Traca whom Krause was most impressed with.

"He's a very good catcher and a kid who's also able to pitch," Krause said. "There were also times this year when we played him at third."

Nick Lombardo had an RBI single in the seventh and had previously singled in the fifth. Lombardo also stole two bases.

"You never want to see your season end," Merchant said. "But, overall, we had a good year. We started out slowly, then had a hot streak and played five hundred baseball at the end. At this level, it's all about preparing kids for the Senior Legion team. That's our mission."