Orange Live Sports Writer

Playing 1 of its grittiest games of the season, the Amity baseball team banged out 7 hits, swiped 7 bases, and shut out Branford 6-0 Monday afternoon at wind-swept, chilly Janenda Field in Woodbridge. In addition to all the offensive efforts, Spartan hurlers Chris Cimino, Max Ritchie, and Nate Fusco combined to hurl a 6-hit shutout in which they left 8 runners on bases (6 of that total were in scoring position), struck out 7 and walked only 1 batter.  With this Southern Connecticut Conference inter-divisional win, Amity improved its record to 8-1 and locked up a berth in next month’s CIAC state tournament.  On the other side of the ledger, the visiting Hornets saw their record dip to 4-6.

“This wasn’t 1 of our best games. We didn’t swing the bats as well as we can, but we played a scrappy game.  Our stolen bases saved us. It got our base runners into scoring position. Without all our stolen bases, the game would have been much closer,” Coach Sal Coppola said.

The winners posted an unearned run in their first at bat. Keith Klebart led off by rapping a hopper that hand cuffed Branford second baseman Mark Canzanella. Klebart proceeded to steal both second and third base, and then scored on Anthony Capozziello’s infield out.

After stranding pairs of runners in scoring position at the conclusion of the second and fifth innings, the Spartans still clung to their 1-0 lead as they came to bat in the bottom of the fifth. With 1 out, pinch hitter R.J. Moquet and his pinch runner, Sean Beaulieu stole second and third base. Chris Katz beat out a bunt single that plated Beaulieu. Katz swiped second was was driven home on Klebart’s RBI single. Another error by Canzanella enabled Klebart to race home and extend his team’s lead to 4-0. Back-to-back, 2-out doubles into left-center field by Mike Concato and Sebastian DeMauro added 2 more tallies and complete the hosts’ 5-run explosion.

Coppola added, “Things were tight until we finally broke through in the fifth inning. Before the game, my co aches and I noticed that Branford was playing its back-up catcher. Once we took note of that, we decided to take advantage of that whenever we could.”

In the top of the second inning, the Hornets’ Robert Miniter led off by whacking a long double off the left center field fence. Canzanella legged out a bunt single and a Cimino balk put both runners in scoring position with no outs. With his back to the wall, Cimino proceeded to retire
Jason Vitale and Alex King on fly balls that were not deep enough to enable Miniter to tag up and score.  The Hornets still had 2 runners in scoring position but with 2 outs.  Cimino ended that threat by firing an inning-ending third strike past Cody Crane.

King led off the top of the fifth by lining a single into left field. Advancing to second base on Crane’s sacrifice bunt, King moved on to third base on the front end of Rob Petrillo’s single into left center field. When Petrillo stole second base, Branford once again had 2 runners in scoring position. At that point, Coppola decided to bring Max Ritchie out of the bullpen to replace Cimino. That move paid off in spades as Ritchie quickly picked King off third base and then retire Isaiah Rodqriquez on an inning-ending ground ball.

According to Coppola, “Sometimes I call that pick-off play from the bench but many times it’s called by 1 of the players on the field. They all know the situation and anyone can give the signal.

He added, “Chris Cimino didn’t have his best stuff today. He was good on fastballs away and inside, but he wasn’t sharp with his other pitches.  He was able to hit his spots and get us out of jams. When I decided to take him out in the fifth, he had already thrown 70 pitches. He’s our regular catcher and we didn’t want to find out later in the week that his arm was sore and he couldn’t throw down to second base. It was time to take him out and bring Max in.”

Ritichie got himself into trouble at the outset of the sixth inning when he served up a lead-off single to Tyler Criscuolo and walked B.J. Massey, but dodged that bullet when he fired third strikes past p inch hitter Dan Hilliard and Vitale. Fusco came on in the top of the seventh and nailed down the win by retiring the Hornets in order.

Summing up the victory, Coppola said, “I thought our defense played well today and we were able to squeak our way out of some jams.”

Concato led the winners with a double, a single, an RBI and also scored a run. DiMauro also singled, doubled, and drove in a run. Klebart singled, stole a base, and scored twice. Going 4 2/3 scoreless innings, Cimino (now 2-0) gave up 5 hits, struck out 6, and did not walk a batter.

Amity returns to action on Wednesday when it hosts North Haven in a 4 p.m. inter-divisional battle at Janenda Field.