Pictured: North Branford’s Matt Scalia comes around to score from second base on Ryan Michonski’s double. The T-Birds will meet top seed St. Paul in the Class S quarterfinals this weekend. (Photo by Danny Atkinson)
By Danny Atkinson
DURHAM — North Branford was on fire in its six-game win streak to end the regular season, averaging 6.3 runs. However, the offense has reached an even higher level in the CIAC Class S tournament.
The No. 9 seed Thunderbirds defeated Wamogo 19-2 on Tuesday and then attacked No. 8 Coginchaug’s pitchers in Wednesday’s second round, putting up a six-run second inning against the Blue Devils and scoring three more in the sixth to go on to win 9-5 over their Shoreline Conference rivals.
North Branford (16-8) earned a quarterfinal date against No. 1 St. Paul of Bristol (23-1) on Saturday.
Coginchaug, last year’s S champion, finishes 15-8.
“We’re hitting really well right now,” Thunderbirds coach Bill Mitchell said. “We had a certain plate approach to start today and stuck to it.”
That approach emphasized patience, compact swings and hitting to all fields. In his first appearance in two weeks after returning from injury, Coginchaug senior starter Anthony Morro looked rusty and North Branford took advantage.
Cam Garrett started the second inning with a walk and came around on a force out at second base, with Nico DeSisto reaching. With one out, Morro walked Matt Scalia and DeSisto, who was running on the pitch, advanced to third on a throwout attempt by catcher Ethan Cavello. With one out a wild pitch scored DeSisto to make it 2-0. Ryan Michonski walked and Dom Scalia immediately doubled off the fence on a fastball, scoring two to make it 4-0.
Morro threw another wild pitch and hit John Onofrio to put runners on first and third. Onofrio stole second and he and Scalia scored on a double to center by Ryan Nuzzo. Morro eventually got out of the inning, but his night was done.
“We were trying to stay short with our swings and not do too much,” said Dom Scalia. “We stayed patient and it paid off.”
Coginchaug coach Mark Basil praised Morro for his effort. The day after he pitched Coginchaug to a 2-1 win over eventual Shoreline champion Old Saybrook, Morro was hit by a pitch against Old Lyme. He suffered a broken bone in his left hand and missed three weeks of action.
“He had a great year. He sacrificed a lot to get back out there and I’m proud of his leadership,” Basil said.
Garrett was outstanding in the first three innings. He had great command and kept the ball down to force weak contact and easy outs. With one out in the fourth, the middle of the Blue Devils order began to get to him. He walked Covello and hit Henry Bugai. Ethan Sirios and Jack Franceschet had hard-hit RBI singles to cut the deficit to 6-3 before Garrett got the third out on a ground ball.
Basil said that after his hitters pressed down 6-0, they eventually began to relax and be more patient.
Coginchaug loaded the bases in the fifth on a double and two walks. After John Carafeno scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-4, DeSisto entered the game. Preston Mennone hit a groundball to Nizzo at second and Jeremy Mangiameli was thrown out at the plate, and DeSisto escaped the jam with a flyout.
Mitchell praised DeSisto for his command.
Reliever Adam Schaffer held North Branford down for three innings before the Thunderbirds woke up in the sixth. Michonski, Dom Scalia and Onofrio hit RBI singles to make it 9-4 and put the game out of reach. Coginchaug scored the final run of the game in the seventh on an error by Scalia.
Scalia and Onofrio had 3 RBI and Michonski added two for North Branford. Garrett and DeSisto combined to allow nine hits and strike out three. Franceschet led Coginchaug with two hits and an RBI and reached three times. Schaffer pitched five innings and allowed three runs.
North Branford will have its hands full against St. Paul (22-1). Mitchell and Scalia are both confident that the T-Birds can pull off the upset and advance to the semifinals.
“We definitely think we can go further. We just have to stay disciplined,” Scalia said.
The Blue Devils reached the second round with a 9-0 win over Housatonic. Covello had a big game with three hits and two RBIs, while Carafeno also drove in two runs. Senior ace Conner Willett got the win, striking out 10 in five innings.
Coginchaug will return most of its young core next season. Basil and Covello believe the Blue Devils improved significantly throughout the season and will be a force in conference next season. Covello, a junior, credited the three seniors for much of their teammates’ growth.
“The young guys could see from their leadership and attitude what a winning team looks like,” he said. “We will follow that mentality next season.”