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Aiden Ricciardelli came up with some big hits throughout the season to help the Branford Junior Legion baseball team qualify for the State Tournament. (Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Matt Judd and the Post 83 Juniors qualified for states by placing fourth in Zone 2 with a record of 9-8-1 this summer. (Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The Branford Junior Legion baseball team finished in fourth place in the Zone 2 standings with a record of 9-8-1 for the regular season and was the last team in the zone to earn a spot in the State Tournament. Post 83 opens play in states as the No. 11 seed and plays at No. 6 Milford in its opening contest at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, July 17 at Foran High School.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Head Coach Mike Krause said. “They had to step it up a notch when one catcher got injured in the beginning of the season and five kids were cross-rostered with [the Senior Legion team] since they were shorthanded.”
Branford, which enters states with an overall record of 10-11-1, began the final week of the regular season by sweeping a home doubleheader against New Haven on July 8, prevailing by final scores of 7-6 and 8-7. In the first game, Branford won on a walk-off squeeze play in the bottom of the eighth inning as Aiden Ricciardelli dropped down a perfect bunt that scored Glen Iacovetti from third. Ricciardelli finished the game with two hits and a RBI, while Lear had two hits and a run scored for Post 83. Other offensive contributions came from Justin Botte and Charles Russo, who both had a hit, two walks, an RBI, and a run scored. Dan Lear pitched a strong game for Post 83 by giving up two runs on one hit in a no-decision. Botte kept the game close, after which Matt Judd earned the victory in relief.
In the second game, New Haven burst out to an early 4-1 advantage, after which Branford scored three runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to take the lead. New Haven scored three in the sixth to tie the game at 7, but Post 83 came back with a run in the bottom half to go up for good with an 8-7 edge. Lear had two hits and scored a run, Tyler Sibling had two hits and three RBI, Henry Watson and Russo each had a hit with two runs scored, and Blake Kustra added a hit for Branford. Judd started the game on the mound and went 3.2 innings for Post 83. Colin Baxter worked 1.1 innings in relief before Watson earned the victory after allowing no runs and no hits in his two innings.
The next day, Branford crushed West Haven by the final score of 16-2. Iacovetti had four hits, scored three runs, and drove home six runs for Post 83, who saw Ricciardelli record three hits, a run scored, and an RBI. Botte had a hit with three RBIs and a run scored, plus Baxter had a hit and scored a run. Botte and Sibling combined for a quality pitching performance for Branford. Botte allowed no runs over four innings, striking out five and allowing two hits. Sibling followed with three innings of relief.
Branford remained hot by blanking Orange 5-0 on July 10. Watson went 6.1 innings, allowing eight hits and striking out five in his 94-pitch outing. Baxter closed the door for the final two outs of the contest. CJ Miller had two hits and a run scored, Russo had a hit, a RBI, and scored twice; Baxter had a hit and two RBI, and Lear had a hit and a RBI in the victory.
Branford then took a tough loss to Milford by a 1-0 score. Ricciardelli turned in an outstanding pitching performance behind six scoreless innings. Milford scored the game’s lone run in the seventh on a bloop single to right field. Anthony Burzyinski had two hits in the game, and Baxter added one for Branford
On July 12, Branford dropped a 6-5 decision to North Haven after allowing Post 76 to score two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Ricciardelli had two hits and a RBI, Russo had three hits and two runs scored, and Iacovetti had a hit, a RBI, and a run scored.
Branford closed out the regular season by facing Zone 2 champion Stratford for a doubleheader on July 15, losing the first game 1-0 and dropping the second contest 13-1. Lear and Baxter combined for a great outing on the mound for Post 83 in the 1-0 defeat.
“We kept our lead pitchers down in pitch count since we will be using them in the tournament on [July 17],” Coach Krause said. “This gave everyone a chance to play. Even with that, we kept the No. 1 team in check for three innings.”
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