Milford Junior Legion wins state opener
For a good majority of its regular season, Milford's Junior American Legion 17U team has been able to put together big innings, as it ran its record to 11-7 and earned a qualifying spot in the state-wide, double-elimination tournament which began last Monday night.
"Sometimes our players simply don't realize how strong we can be offensively," said Milford coach Mike Merchant following his team’s 8-5 first-round win over Branford at Ken Walker Field.
Milford put together a five-run third inning to overtake Branford and take a 5-2 lead.
Holding onto that lead was something that Milford wasn't able to do.
They gave up a run in the fourth and two more in the fifth by virtue of some sloppy defense and found themselves deadlocked at five heading into the bottom of the fifth.
Milford's bats came alive.
James Cardone opened the frame by drawing a walk off of Branford's Henry Watson, the second of two pitchers used by head coach Mike Krause.
Vin Schulte, who had singled in his previous two at-bats, moved Cardone up a base with a sacrifice bunt before Nick Lombardo reached on an error.
Nate Merchant singled home Cardone to break the deadlock.
Justin DeEll came on as a pinch hitter and drove the second pitch that he saw down the left-field line for a two-run double.
It was enough of a cushion for Milford reliever Jack Wagner to work with, as he had taken over for Colby Primavera in the fourth inning and picked up the win.
Milford, the No. 6 seed in the 32-team tournament, will now take on No. 3 Stamford, an 11-0 winner over No. 14 Oxford on Wednesday night at 5:30 at Stamford's Cubeta Stadium.
DeEll was happy for the opportunity to contribute.
"I decided right away that I would wait him (Watson) out and take the first pitch," he said. "When he came in with that second delivery, the pitch was right where I liked it. It's nice to win this way. Our offense made up for what our defense wasn't able to do."
Wagner threw 43 pitches for the night, most from a rather unorthodox semi-side arm delivery where he would pause at the top before releasing the ball.
"I've done it (throw the way he does) all my life," said the Platt Tech student. "It has worked for me, so I've never given any thought to changing it. We needed that three-run inning. Otherwise, we still might be playing."
Krause began thinking that the verdict might have been decided on who made the last error. His team committed only two errors while Milford had four miscues.
"They had the timely hitting in the right situations," he said. "They were clutch and most of the time, we were not."
Branford collected seven hits while Milford had nine with six of them coming in their five-run inning.
In addition to Schulte, Nate Merchant added a pair of hits.
Seven players drove in a run while DeEll had two.
"Wagner did a nice job," Mike Merchant said. "He did what he needed to do; throw strikes and let our defense do the rest. By then, we had made enough errors."
Wagner retired all eight batters he faced.
Primavera had four strikeouts while throwing 95 pitches.
For Branford, Aiden Ricciardelli and Watson had two hits each.
Branford will host Oxford at 5:30 on Wednesday.