WALLINGFORD – Opportunity knocked early and often for Post 187. Wallingford just couldn’t come up with a timely base knock Monday in falling 5-2 to Branford.
The Wallingford 19U American Legion squad failed to take advantage of five walks over the first two innings at Pat Wall Field and fell behind 4-0. Post 187, which walked nine times but only had three hits in the game, scored twice in the sixth inning on bases-loaded walks.
The loss dropped second-place Wallingford to 11-10, while Branford improved to 8-8. Both trail Cheshire, which stands 15-2 in Zone 2.
Post 187 was down 5-0 before putting the tying run on base in the sixth inning. But Wallingford left the bases loaded for a second time when cleanup hitter Russ Edeen lined out to third base.
“No one stepped up to get a hit,” Wallingford coach John Amendola said. “You have to put the bat on the ball. They stand there looking at too many pitches.”
“At least six times, we were up 2-0 in the count. That’s when you have gear up; be ready to hit. And we’re taking pitches right down the middle,” Amendola added.
Edeen at least put good wood on the ball in the sixth. Back home in Wallingford after a freshman season at Central Connecticut State University, the former Lyman Hall standout saw his liner snared by Branford third baseman Carson Mendoza.
Post 187 didn’t threaten in the seventh.
“It’s been the story of our season. We are not ones for clutch hits. I don’t know what it is,” Edeen said. “It’s been a downfall of ours. We just have had trouble putting the ball in play in those situations.”
Branford, meanwhile, took full advantage of its early chances. After scoring an unearned run in the first inning, Post 83 tallied three runs off Wallingford starter Justin Hackett in the third to take a 4-0 lead.
Hackett, who just finished his freshman season at Lyman Hall, lasted just three innings. The right-hander struck out three and gave up five hits.
“I didn’t think our pitching was bad tonight,” Amendola said. “But we put their leadoff guys on with walks and they scored. You can’t do that. That’s Baseball 101.”
“They hit some good balls into the outfield. (Hackett) was up. He wasn’t fooling anyone. You have to pitch down in the zone. You get the ball up and that’s no good.”
The biggest Branford hit was also its shortest, as Post 83 scored two runs on an infield single that just eluded Hackett and Edeen’s glove at third base.
The ball was fielded by Wallingford shortstop Joe Amarone, but his throw to first base was late. Aggressive base running by Branford resulted in a 4-0 lead.
“The difference in baseball is their kid hits a ball that barely gets by the mound and they score two runs,” Amendola said. “We have bases loaded with two outs and hit a rocket that is caught for the third out. That’s baseball.”
But long before the sixth inning, Wallingford had not only the chance to match Branford’s offense but take an early lead.
Post 187 loaded the bases in the second inning and didn’t score. Branford starter Ed Zanor struggled to find the strike zone, walking five Wallingford hitters over the first two innings.
Wallingford’s Joe Romano struck out on a 3-2 fastball to end Wallingford’s second-inning threat. But he wasn’t alone, as Post 187 left 12 runners on base in the game.
Zanor would settle down after his early wildness to go five innings. The Notre Dame-West Haven grad struck out six Wallingford hitters and allowed just two hits.
Aidan Ricciardelli came on in the sixth and got two outs, but also walked in both Wallingford runs. He was relieved by Alphonse Suppa Jr., who not only got Edeen to line out to end the sixth, but worked a scoreless seventh.
“Our pitching, we find a way to get it done,” Branford coach Kyle Heins said. “We struggle a little bit here and there, but they are gamers and I have full confidence in them.”
“(Zanor) tends to get so up and so intense. He kind of throws out of his shoes,” Heins added. “Then once he realizes he has to dial it in and settle down, he does a good job.”
Zanor tested Heins confidence those first two innings. But after Wallingford left five runners on base over the first two innings, Zanor retired nine of the next 12 Post 187 batters.
Wallingford did put runners in scoring position again in the third and fourth innings, but didn’t score until the two walks in the sixth. The hardest hit ball before Edeen’s liner in the sixth was Joe Romano’s line-drive out to left field that ended the fourth inning.
Edeen got to second base after singling and stealing second with one out in the third inning. But he was stranded when Zanor struck out Braydon Lyons and got Evan Wilkinson to ground out.
The loss drops Wallingford six games behind Zone 2 leader Cheshire, which plays Branford the next three days. Post 187 will play Cheshire to end this season after both moved to Zone 2 from Zone 3 this summer.
“Zone 2 is tough, but we are used to Cheshire,” John Amarone said. ““If we get good pitching we can play with them.”