The Branford Senior American Legion baseball squad is as hot as the humid July air as Rich Balzano’s squad stands atop Zone 2 at 17-0 and recently rattled off seven consecutive shutouts and a 60-inning scoreless streak. The first of these shutouts came with a 7-0 win against Shelton on June 23 and Post 83 then went on to blank West Haven 10-0, Milford 3-0 and 7-0, and Stratford by scores of 4-0, 8-0, and 6-0 before allowing a run in the seventh inning of a 5-1 win against North Haven on June 30. Post 83 then won two more games via shutout by beating Milford 6-0 on July 2 and East Haven 10-0 the next day.
With its record of 17-0, Branford leads Orange (13-1) for first place in Zone 2 and has a three-game series against Post 127 that culminates with a game at Orange’s Brinley Field at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 11. Balzano’s team has won Zone 2 the last three years and edged Orange for the crown last summer.
“Our pitching and defense continue to shine. Everyone seems to be embracing the idea that defense wins championships and we are getting solid pitching performances each game,” Coach Balzano said. “On the offensive side, different players step up at different times. We have played small ball in some games and in others we strung together seven or eight hits in row. It’s a great group of kids who are very committed to giving their best every day. They work hard, have fun, and want to do something special this season.”
On June 28, Branford prevailed at Milford 7-0 behind a three-hitter from Ben Criscuolo. Kyle Hart went 4-for-4 with a double, a triple, two runs scored, and three RBI to lead the offense. Criscuolo helped his own cause with a single and two RBI, Mike Funaro singled twice and scored twice with an RBI, and Tyler Forgione singled and scored for Post 83.
The next day saw Branford sweep a home doubleheader from Stratford. In the 4-0 win in the opener, Greg Zullo hurled a one-hitter and fanned seven in raising his record to 3-0. Ben Criscuolo singled twice and scored twice with an RBI, Tyler Criscuolo singled with an RBI, and Nick Perrelli singled and scored a run.
In an 8-0 victory in the nightcap, Nick Debroi tossed a three-hitter, Hart singled twice with a run and an RBI, Funaro singled twice and scored twice, Ben Criscuolo singled twice with a run scored and three RBI, and Chris Stankiewicz singled with a run scored and an RBI.
The following day, Branford traveled to Stratford and came home with a 6-0 win behind a four-hitter with nine strikeouts by John Amendola, who improved to 3-0. Ben Criscuolo singled with two RBI, Ben LaCroix roped an RBI triple, and Tyler Criscuolo and Alex Pantani each singled for Post 83.
Later that day, Branford notched a 5-1 home win against North Haven as Nick Perrelli pitched a one-hitter with eight Ks for his first victory of the campaign. Stankiewicz singled twice and drove home a run, Ben Criscuolo singled with an RBI, and Funaro singled with a run scored and an RBI. North Haven scored a run on a wild pitch in the seventh inning to stop Branford’s remarkable scoreless streak at 60 innings.
“Putting together 60 scoreless innings is unbelievable, but our kids are really more focused on winning baseball games, whether it’s 5-4 or 5-0,” Coach Balzano said. “Winning is what they’re focused on and that’s what makes them special.”
Post 83 then shut down Milford in its next game, a 6-0 home victory on July 3. This time it was Mike Schettino’s turn to shine on the mound as he pitched a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts to go to 3-0. Hart singled twice with a run scored and three RBI; Ben Criscuolo, Tyler Criscuolo, and Zullo each singled and drove in runs; and Stankiewicz singled and scored a pair of runs.
Then the next day saw Branford handily defeat East Haven by the count of 10-0. Ben Criscuolo raised his mark to 4-0 by throwing a three-hitter, Funaro hit three singles with three runs scored and an RBI, Zullo homered with a run scored and two RBI, Pantani singled and homered with two runs and an RBI, and Forgione singled with two RBI.