Pictured: Middletown’s Frankie Randazzese crosses home plate after belting a solo home run in the team’s season opener on Friday.

By Paul Augeri

MIDDLETOWN – Guilford dropped in at Palmer Field on Friday, its first trip to the ballpark since last June’s Class L championship game loss to Brookfield.

“The last time we were here we lost a heartbreaker,” coach Nick Merullo said, “and I think it was on everyone’s minds today.”

This time around, the Grizzlies left with a good feeling after another good win, 3-1 over Middletown, its second of 2024 following a season-opening 6-2 victory over Daniel Hand.

Luke Deshefy, the 2023 Southern Connecticut Conference Player of the Year and an All-State performer, singled sharply up the middle in the seventh inning for the deciding runs. Guilford had loaded the bases on an infield single and two Middletown errors. Deshefy’s hit brought home Joe Tafro and Alex Tafro.

Grizzlies right-hander Adam Copeland pitched six strong innings and Massimo Ruotolo secured the final three outs for the save. Middletown’s Kellen McGran walked with one out but got doubled off on Bobby Civitillo’s lineout to second baseman Mike Buccaro.

Middletown scored its only run of the game in the sixth inning when junior Frankie Randazzese launched a fly ball into the bleachers in right field.

Senior right-hander Luke Weisenberg was chased after Deshefy’s hit in the seventh. Corey Turcotte got three quick outs, the last two on a double-player grounder, to keep it a two-run game.

“It was a great high school baseball game,” said Merullo, whose team beat Middletown 3-0 last March. “Luke Weisenberg outstanding on the mound, every bit as good as advertised. Adam Copeland matched him pitch for pitch. It was a great pitcher’s duel. And then you hope your best guys can come through at the end of the game and one of our best guys delivered the clutch hit.”

“So we got good pitching and timely hitting. It was a good, clean baseball game.”

Not so for the Blue Dragons, who committed seven errors in their season opener. Coach Dan Botti is building up a starting lineup that has more new varsity faces than not. Weisenberg, Quinn and Turcotte make up the core of the club.

“We’re not going to get a lot of opportunities to beat a team like this because they’re really, really talented,” Botti said, “but any game that Luke’s in he’s going to give us a chance to win. Credit to him.

“We’re not going to beat any team making seven errors. Luke battled every at-bat and I thought we honestly hit the ball hard all over the park. Shoutout to Frankie, that was a no-doubter.

The game was scoreless until the fourth. Guilford pushed across a run with two outs when Weisenberg’s throw to first on a comebacker was off the mark.

Middletown threatened to tack on more offense after Randazzese’s blast. Weisenberg doubled over the head of Lucas Ametrano in center with one out, but Copeland induced a flyout and groundout to keep it a 1-1 game entering the seventh.

Weisenberg allowed no earned runs and four hits, walked two and struck out 10.

“It’s one game, our first game. We played a good team today and it happens,” said Weisenberg, a team captain. “Teams are going to put the balls in play and I look at it as something we can work on. In practice, keep working the guys, especially on certain things we missed. I know (Botti) will work on that too as much as he can.”

Guilford was 17-3 last season, won the SCC championship en route to the Class L title game and landed at No. 3 in the GameTimeCT preseason poll. The Grizzlies have the nucleus of the 2023 team back for another run.

“We’ve got some new faces in some big spots and a mix of returning players,” said Merullo. “The guys worked their butts off in the offseason. They know not to take anything for granted. So far the first couple of games have gone the way we wanted them to. We’ll play it one pitch at a time and if have each other’s backs, good things will happen.”

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