WEST HAVEN — It has been two years since the rivals from West Haven have met on the baseball diamond. While plenty has changed in that time, one thing remains the same as the rivalry lives on.
With both teams picking up their play of late, West Haven winners of five straight coming into the contest and the Green Knights winners of three of their last four, the intensity was certain to be present in the first meeting of the year between the two teams.
When all was said and done, it was West Haven which took home the initial meeting of the two teams with a 3-0 victory over the Green Knights at Piurek Field in West Haven Wednesday afternoon.
West Haven junior pitcher Gianni Gambardella continued to impress with his third victory of the year. Gambardella needed just 83 pitches, 62 of which were strikes, to toss a complete-game two-hitter, striking out eight and walking just one batter.
“He is turning out to be not a good, but a great pitcher,” West Haven coach Ron Luneau said of Gambardella. “He makes it that much easier for us to play defense when you are getting nine or ten strikeouts a game as opposed to two or three. The last person that did that was Tom Lawrence in 2009 and you saw what happened there (state champions).”
West Haven came into the contest scoring 35 runs in their last five games, while the pitching allowed just four runs in that same time frame with a pair of shutouts. The total now stands at 38 runs and four against in what has been an impressive six-game winning streak for West Haven since starting the season with losses against Hand and Xavier.
Gambardella’s gem, in which he faced just 24 batters, followed a no-hitter by junior Dylan Supan against Guilford Tuesday in another West Haven victory.
“Everyone is producing,” Gambardella said. “Everyone is getting hits and pitching well. We have picked it up.”
While West Haven improved to 6-2, Notre Dame fell to 4-4 after losing its second straight contest. The Green Knights had limited scoring opportunities in the game, but when they did, Gambardella shut the door.
Notre Dame had a chance to get on the board first when Kevin Milewski led off the second with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice and third on a ground out. Gambardella got a strikeout to end the inning.
“I was just throwing the ball outside,” Gambardella said. “I saw it was there early on and kept going there. My defense made plays behind me. It was a good win for us.”
West Haven gave Gambardella all the run support he would need with three runs in the third inning off Notre Dame starter Nick Hunkele.
Hunter Axelrod led off with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice by Dan Izzo and scored on a double to right by Tyler Jones. Gambardella followed with a double to left to score Jones, and freshman Ray Gilbert singled to center with two outs to score Gambardella for a 3-0 advantage.
“It was big for us to get those runs early,” Jones said. “It was great to get the lead and get ahead. We played with confidence.
“We started slow, but we have been working on our hitting. We have been working hard. We have been able to put the ball in play. We have been hitting well and our pitching has been dominant.”
The Green Knights had another opportunity to get on the scoreboard in the fifth as Justin Coppola led off with a single to right, and Mitchell Riccio was hit by a pitch with one out, but Gambardella got a double play ball to Jones to end the threat.
“The number one thing has been our pitching,” Luneau said. “Number two is we are making the plays. Our guys are making plays. The outfield is solid. Tyler Jones is making plays everywhere at short. He is all over the place. We have been getting it done.”
Notre Dame had one more opportunity to catch the Westies in the sixth as Tanner Belcher doubled with two outs, but he was left stranded.
Hunkele kept his team in the game, throwing six innings and allowing just four hits. The sophomore walked three and struck out six, including a big strikeout with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth for West Haven.
Hunkele then retired Axelrod to escape the threat, but Notre Dame went down in order in the seventh.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Gianni Gambardella — West Haven junior shut down the Green Knights, tossing a complete-game 2-hitter. Gambardella struck out eight and walked just one in the victory.
“This is a special group of kids This is the group of kids I have been waiting for since they were at Bailey Middle School. A lot of them played for me as freshmen and they all started as sophomores.”
— West Haven coach Ron Luneau
WEST HAVEN 3, NOTRE DAME 0
NOTRE DAME 000 000 0 — 0 2 1
WEST HAVEN 003 000 x — 3 4 0
Batteries: N: Nick Hunkele (L) and Nick Bracale; W: Gianni Gambardella (W) and Anthony Rubin
Records: ND 4-4; WH 6-2
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