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Zane Kmietek won 18 ballgames during a four-year varsity career as a member of Branford High School baseball team’s pitching staff. This summer, Zane signed up to play for the Post 83 Senior Legion team and delivered a record of 6-0. (Photo courtesy of Zane Kmietek )
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Baseball fans in Branford know all about what Zane Kmietek has accomplished on the pitcher’s mound. However, they might be surprised to find out that Zane wasn’t even planning on pitching when he started high school. Fortunately for the Hornets, Zane became a fixture on their pitching staff throughout a career that saw him record 18 victories, including several in postseason play. This summer, Zane joined Branford’s Senior American Legion team and posted a record of 6-0.
Zane pitched when he played Little League, although he preferred manning the catcher’s position. In his 8th-grade year, Zane’s squad already had two catchers, and so he spent the season playing the outfield, while doing some relief pitching. When he arrived at Branford High School, Zane’s first goal was to make the JV team as an outfielder, but Head Coach Ed Bethke had other plans for the right-hander.
“Coach Bethke pulled me aside and said he wanted me to throw some bullpen sessions to see what I could do on the mound,” says Zane. “The rest was history.”
Bethke saw Zane hitting the upper 70’s on the radar gun and decided that the freshman would be cross-rostered as a pitcher for Branford’s varsity and JV teams. Zane made his first varsity start during the middle of the year and proved a force in the Hornets’ rotation from that point forward. Now, Zane is getting ready to continue his baseball career at Division I Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
“It was incredible. I went from a kid who wasn’t even sure what position I would play and my goal was to be a varsity sophomore, to where I’m now a committed baseball player [for college] and a proven pitcher in my town,” Zane says. “That was huge for me.”
Zane picked up a couple of wins as a freshman and gained confidence by showing he could succeed against older competition. Entering his sophomore year, Zane felt comfortable with his repertoire—which featured a fastball, curveball, and changeup—but assistant coach John Limone suggested that Zane learn a breaking pitch that featured more lateral movement, as opposed to the straight drop of the curve. Consequently, the slider quickly became a go-to pitch for Zane, who started on Opening Day and wound up tossing 52 innings in a season that saw him make the All-Oronoque Division Team. He also pitched a no-hitter against North Haven en route to being named Branford’s Pitcher of the Year.
“Developing the slider gave me so much confidence in all my pitches, knowing I can throw a slider in a 2-0 count for a strike, so the hitter is off-balance and doesn’t know what’s coming next. Now, I can go to any pitch,” says Zane, who started pitching in AAU with the Connecticut Blue Jays that summer. “It was crazy to see how big of a difference it made. I didn’t have to waste pitches as much and my strikeouts went up a lot my sophomore year. I wasn’t afraid to go at someone anymore. I wasn’t shying back. My slider helped me out on the field and mentally just as much.”
Zane got out to a rocky start as a junior, but found his stride late in the year and finished at 5-4. Zane broke new ground by notching the first two postseason victories of his career that spring. He pitched Branford to a 12-1 win over Hand in the SCC Tournament quarterfinals and earned another victory when the Hornets blanked Cheney Tech 11-0 in the second round of the Class L State Tournament.
Zane’s final campaign with the Hornets followed a similar script. The senior captain held a 4-4 record entering the playoffs and then stepped up big-time by winning three games. Zane got the win in an 8-5 victory versus Cheshire in the SCC semis, pitched a five-hitter in a 2-0 shutout over Masuk for the first round of states, and then threw 3.2 scoreless innings of relief when Branford edged Bristol Eastern 2-1 in eight innings in the Class L quarters. Overall, Zane went 7-4 and helped the Hornets finish with a record of 17-9 in the 2018 season.
“There were a lot of emotions. I wanted to go out on a good note pitching for the high-school team. I wanted to succeed after an up-and-down senior season,” Zane says. “The coaches having faith in me and knowing they still believed in me was huge. They weren’t giving up on me, and I was able to clear my head,” Zane says. “Even though I didn’t have a great regular season, their faith in me took the weight off my shoulders, and I knew that Cheshire was a must-win. I felt proud of myself, but I was also so proud of the people around me.”
Zane decided that he wanted to continue competing alongside his fellow Branford ballplayers this summer and signed up for the Post 83 Senior American Legion team. Zane, who now throws in the mid-80’s, went 6-0 and had two saves for Branford, which finished the season with 18 victories. In the State Tournament, Zane threw 9.1 innings of scoreless baseball in a 1-0, 10-inning loss versus Naugatuck.
“Zane is a big-game pitcher and a good kid who takes control every time he steps on the mound. He can throw any of his four pitches for a strike in any count, and that makes him really effective,” said Head Coach Kyle Heins. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing. Zane goes into every game with the same mentality and feels like he can dominate everybody—and he can. He also brings a positive energy to the team. There is nothing negative about him. Zane was definitely the backbone to our success, and I was thankful to have him play for Post 83.”
In turn, Zane feels thankful that he joined the Branford Legion program. It means a lot to Zane that he got to spend one more season on the field with the people who he grew up playing baseball with in town.
“It was great to play with them one more summer. When you say good-bye after your last high-school game, it leaves you with an empty feeling. But after playing with them for Legion, it gives you some of that happiness back and gives you something to look forward to,” says Zane. “I’m glad I got back together with them.”
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