WEST HAVEN — When Hamden and West Haven renew the rivalry on the baseball diamond, it is always a big deal. Coming into Thursday evening’s contest, Hamden was riding a 10-game winning streak and West Haven owned a seven-game hot streak of its own.
With all that, plus the fact each team will be playing in the Southern Connecticut Conference and state tournaments in the coming weeks, one had to imagine all the hype would be between the lines.
While that was true, one factor unseated this huge SCC match-up. In a game which pitted a pair of SCC powers, it was only fitting a man who has meant so much to both towns had his day as the Green Dragons and Westies clashed in the inaugural Ray Guarino Baseball Series.
The 45-year-old Guarino played for West Haven High under George Hanchette and also coached the Hamden American Legion Post 88 team for seven seasons. In the skipper’s last season, his team moved on to the Southern Super Regionals in the Legion tournament in 2019.
Guarino was on hand to present West Haven with the first victory in the series as the Westies took advantage of an uncharacteristically sloppy Hamden team in a 7-2 SCC interdivision victory at Piurek Field in West Haven.
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) May 20, 2021
“Ron Luneau came up with this idea,” Guarino said. “I can’t think of a greater honor by these two schools in a sport that is so near and dear to my heart. This means more than anything to me. I appreciate the people from Hamden and West Haven for what they have done for me over the last few years.”
After a one-year COVID-19 absence, both teams are headed to the SCC tournament with second-seeded Hamden hosting No. 7 Shelton and fourth-seeded West Haven hosting No. 5 Xavier Monday at 4 p.m.
“We love to play them (West Haven) anyway,” Hamden coach Chris Borelli said. “This has been a great rivalry for years and this just sweetens the pot. We are happy to be a part of this for Ray here. For all he has done for our program and for their program, I couldn’t think of a better day to do this.”
“It is a great thing to be a part of this tonight,” West Haven coach Ron Luneau said. “It is a great way to honor him. I would have been highly disappointed if we did not get this game in. We both dropped teams to get this game in. We wanted to make this happen and we are very happy we did.”
The much-anticipated battle between Hamden, ranked fifth in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, and the Westies came down to West Haven taking advantage of its opportunities and capitalizing on three Hamden errors.
A clutch two-out rally in the sixth inning gave West Haven starter Gianni Gambardella all the run support he needed. Leading by a run, West Haven scored four times to put the game away.
Tyler DeSanty and Hunter Axelrod singled with two outs, and Dan Izzo and Tyler Jones followed with walks to force in DeSanty for a 4-2 lead.
“This win means the world to us, especially for what we are playing for,” Luneau said after his team improved to 14-4 with its eighth straight victory. “I can’t say enough how proud I am of this team. We just come out ready to play. We have great pitching, we play very good defense, and we get the timely hits.”
Gambardella followed with a grounder to third, but a pair of errors on the play cleared the bases and gave West Haven a 7-2 advantage.
“We were really sloppy on defense tonight,” Borelli said after his team fell to 16-2. “It started with that bunt play early. We are usually pretty solid on defense. Our defense hurt us tonight. I would say our defensive miscues cost us four runs tonight.”
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) May 20, 2021
West Haven jumped out to a 3-0 lead after three innings as the Westies scored once in the first and twice in the third.
Gambardella started a two-out rally in the first with a single, and was followed by singles from Mike Boni and Dylan Supan for the first run of the game.
The West Haven lead increased to 3-0 in the third as Izzo led off with a single and scored when a sacrifice attempt by Jones was thrown away. Jones advanced to third on the play, and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Gambardella.
“This is big for us, especially coming off a six-win season two years ago,” Gambardella said. “This is big going into the playoffs.”
Hamden got within 3-2 in the fourth as Zach Gross singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a single to center by Jake Pisano. Pisano later scored in the inning as part of a double steal to cut the Hamden deficit to one.
That was as close as Hamden would get as Gambardella finished with a three-hitter. The junior pitcher struck out six and walked three in the win. Mike Boni led the Westies with a pair of hits.
— Erik Dobratz (@Erikd25) May 21, 2021
Person of the Game
Ray Guarino: West Haven native who has meant just as much to the Hamden community has battled multiple myeloma since 2019. Guarino was on hand to present the trophy to West Haven and speak to both teams afterwards in the first annual Ray Guarino Baseball Series between the two teams.
“Ray Guarino is the coach who has made me who I am both baseball-wise and in my life. That is not to disrespect any other coach. He calls me every week. He has changed me as a player. I wore number 20 my freshman and sophomore years. Ray was number 21 and I knew I wanted to do something special this baseball season, so I changed my number to twenty-one. No other player should wear that number.”
— Hamden senior Jake Pisano who has played for Ray Guarino since he was 13 years old.
West Haven 7, Hamden 2
Hamden000 200 0 – 2 3 3
West Haven102 004 x – 7 7 1
H- Jack Lindberg (L), Matt Desroches (3) and Angel Rivera; W – Gianni Gambardella (W) and Anthony Rubin
Records: Hamden 16-2; West Haven 14-4
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