Although Branford baseball has a new coach and a roster that’s minus its top pitcher and hitter from last year, the Hornets enter this spring with the same goals of past seasons. Ed Bethke takes the reins of a program that’s won the SCC Oronoque Division eight times in the last decade, along with claiming state crowns in 2006 and 2009, and so the first-year skipper wants to continue Branford’s winning tradition by again aiming for the top.
“In a way it’s a rebuilding year, but we still want to compete for a state title and trying to win the division is always a given,” said Bethke, a Hornets’ alum who was the JV coach last year and takes over for George Dummar, Jr. “We have a good group that’s buying into what we’re getting across and that makes it easier for us. We’ll figure out the right lineup for each game and go out and surprise some teams.”
Branford began its campaign at Guilford and faces Hamden in its home opener at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, April 4. Slated to pitch the first game for Bethke’s Hornets was junior Robert Miniter, who steps up as the rotation’s ace following the graduation of Connor Moriarty. Miniter is the lone lefty on a starting staff that also includes senior returnee Nick Debroi, plus two newcomers in junior Justin Reyes and sophomore Danny Driscoll. In the bullpen, Branford has several newcomers with juniors Jack Bishop and Tyler Amann ready to handle closer’s duties and senior Dan Hilliard and junior Jason Vitale rounding out the relief corps.
Coach Bethke said his pitching staff features “a good mix of experience, youth, and depth” and elaborates on what he expects from his two veterans in Miniter and Debroi.
“Robert has been practicing with varsity since his freshman year so he’s been around and gets better every season because of how hard he works, the way he prepares himself, and how he takes care of his arm afterward. Robert learned from one of the best lefties to come through the program in Connor Moriarty and excelled last year. I expect big things from him this season,” Bethke said. “We also have big expectations for Nick, who has the talent, but just needs to go out there and throw strikes to be successful and give us five to six strong innings.”
At the catcher’s spot, the Hornets will have a platoon with junior BJ Massey and sophomore Charlie Ahern slated to share time in their initial varsity seasons. Around the infield, Brad Doyle returns for his third season as Branford’s first baseman with fellow senior captain Marc Canzanella patrolling second base for the third consecutive campaign. The left side of the infield will see two athletes make their varsity debuts after stellar seasons on the ice in sophomore shortstop Tyler Criscuolo and third baseman Vitale. Criscuolo takes over at short for Dummar’s son Nick Dummar, who graduated.
“Brad is one of the best defensive first basemen in the SCC, Marc is never afraid to throw his body around and make a good play, and we’ll rely on their experience with a new left side of our infield,” said Bethke. “But Tyler and Jason had good gloves, too, and they’re both familiar with each other from hockey so it’s a good infield.”
In terms of those who will roam the expansive pasture of the MacVeigh Complex, Coach Bethke said he has “an extremely fast outfield” that will feature junior left fielder Alex King, senior captain center fielder and three-year starter Rob Petrillo, and senior right fielder Cody Crane, all who saw varsity action last season. Bethke complimented Petrillo and his two fellow captains for “meshing well together with each one bringing something different to the team.” Bethke also feels that, even though his lineup loses some power from last year, it will still produce by virtue of boasting better balance.
“We have a more balanced lineup than last year and will do some of the small things to score runs,” he said. “We’re not expecting anyone to come up and jack home runs every at-bat, but you’ll see us hit-and-run, you’ll see us bunt, and we’ll sneak up on some people.”
Rounding out the roster for the Hornets are senior infielders Tyler King, Jimmy Weston, and Hilliard, senior outfielder Dylan Cartlon, and junior infielder Isaiah Rodriguez.
Bethke will be assisted by Steve Malafronte, who moves up from the freshman coach to the JV coach, along with volunteer Kevin McDonough and new freshman coach in program alum Brian Maturo.
For the first time in nine seasons, the beloved George Dummar will not be in the dugout this spring, but will of course be in the hearts and minds of Branford’s athletes when they take to the diamond each game. Coach Bethke said that although this year marks the start of a new era for the Hornets, his athletes will still play the way they were taught by Dummar.
“George definitely put his stamp on this program and, even though he isn’t here, we’re putting across the same goals and running the program the same way he did,” Bethke said. “The kids know that George will always be with them when they’re on the field. We’re going to put our best team out there and give it our best shot.”