This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published July 19, 2020
Baseball has officially returned to Branford with the town fielding two teams in the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association (CEBA) this summer. Branford’s U-19 team is one of 36 clubs that’s competing at the Senior level in the CEBA. Head Coach Kyle Heins wants his athletes to appreciate their opportunity to play baseball again and use this season as a way to continue their development on the diamond.
“We’re really excited to be out there. The kids are really happy. We are a really young team, and our motto is to, ‘Get better every single day,’” said Heins. “We are going to try and make the tournament when it comes time. We are excited to be playing, and we have all great kids. It’s been a really fun season.”
The CEBA was formed following American Legion baseball’s decision to cancel play nationwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Connecticut’s American Legion committee officially canceled its season on May 11, but after various Legion zone directors in the state started looking for an alternative to play, the CEBA was created. Branford is competing in Division 2 of the CEBA’s U-19 league with Madison, West Haven, Orange, Wallingford, East Haven, Hamden, Milford, North Haven, and New Haven. Branford also has a team playing in the U-17 league.
Branford’s U-19 team got out to a slow start by taking a few losses during the first two weeks of its season. Despite those defeats, Coach Heins saw the potential in his squad early on and knew that Branford was only going to get better.
“The first week went decent. Our pitching is there. That bats will be behind everything, but we’re almost there,” Heins said. “It’s frustrating when we score two, three runs a game, but the kids aren’t getting down. They understand the process. This season is about getting better and getting ready for next spring. That’s what we are focusing on as a staff.”
Branford started off last week by taking a 7-1 home loss to Milford on July 11. Two days later, Branford played a road game against Milford and lost the contest by a 3-0 score. Jake Bodner pitched the first six innings for Branford before being relieved by Max Lebial in seventh. Coach Heins said that his offense ran into a solid Milford pitcher and, although Branford couldn’t get the bats going, he was impressed with Bodner’s performance on the mound.
One day later, Branford was back on the road to face North Haven and dropped a 2-1 decision. Danny Farricielli got the start for Branford and allowed two unearned runs in four innings. Lebial pitched the next two innings for Branford, giving up one hit. Branford scored its lone run of the game when outfielder Bennett Gentile hit a double that brought home Zach Vandale, who plays both the infield and the outfield.
Branford faced North Haven again for a home game on July 15. Mike Virginelli, who is only 15 years old, pitched a complete-game one-hitter to lead Branford to a 4-0 victory.
Infielder Teddy Zabawa and catcher Alex Polanco both had an RBI, while Bodner hit a double to help Branford get the win. Coach Heins’s team improved its record to 2-6 by blanking North Haven.
“He works really hard. He’s a kid I’m able to stretch out a little bit. He’s been throwing through the winter and all through the spring,” Heins said of Virginelli. “He’s someone we are leaning on. When he throws strikes, he’s really effective. He was on. He was great. I didn’t think he had his best stuff, but he competed and got through it.”
Coach Heins is expecting plenty of offensive production from Vandale, who is leading the team as a captain alongside Bodner, as well as Gentile, shortstop Enrique Diaz, and first baseman Eddie Zanor. Gentile adds that Branford’s offense is improving and that he sees a lot of potential in his lineup.
On the other side of the diamond, Heins has been pleased with Branford’s pitching staff thus far. Heins is looking for Bodner and Gentile to be leaders on the hill and will also be relying on pitchers like Virginelli, Farricielli, and Zabawa.
As Branford strives to continually improve, Coach Heins said that he likes the camaraderie on his squad, along with the fact that everyone on the roster is already showing progress.
“They’re great kids who really enjoy being around each other,” said Heins. “Defensively, we struggled the first game, but we are light years ahead of where we were on day one. Offensively, we’ve got to get going, but we’re being patient. We know the process is going to come together.”
Branford will continue its season by playing games against West Haven, Orange, and Hamden this week. While Coach Heins wants his players to use their experience in CEBA as a way to develop, he also wants Branford to make its way up the Division II standings in the quest to make the playoffs.
“I would like to see Branford toward the top six teams. That’s my goal for them. Right now, we’re sitting in ninth place, and I want to be in the fourth to fifth range,” Heins said. “But we’re going to be able to make a run no matter what. Come playoff time, everybody should be good to go. I’m not scared to play anybody come first round of the playoffs.”