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Branch dazzles as Wall Angels end four-game skid

July 19, 2011

POINT PLEASANT BOROUGH — Anyone who has ever watched 2011 Manasquan graduate Alex Branch pitch knows how passionately he goes about the craft.

Lately, while pitching for the Wall Angels in the Jersey Shore Baseball League [JSBL], Branch had been struggling, and his manager, Sal Palmieri, could see how much it bothered his young righty.

“He struggled his last start and a couple of times before that, but it is really not his ability,” said Palmieri, of Branch. “He still gets tense out there sometimes, and you could see it getting to him.”

So Palmieri, the manager who is also on the official roster, decided to surprise Branch, hoping to relieve some weight off his shoulders by getting behind the plate when the Angels took on the Point Pirates on the road last Tuesday night.

“Tonight, I thought it was a good night to get back there,” said Palmieri of suiting up as the catcher for the game. “He didn’t know I was catching, so when I walked out to the bullpen I saw him smiling.”

The result?

A dominant six inning, two-hitter, in which Branch struck out six Pirate batters in a 12-0 Wall victory.

“You could just see his body language was good out there tonight,” Palmieri said. “He threw well and he got outs.”

Branch was happy to perform so well for the Angels, who broke a four-game losing streak with the victory. He felt during his previous struggles, he was trying to do too much on the hill.

“I think it went well,” Branch said, following the game. “You have to go in with the mentality to let them hit it and have the defense make plays for you. I trust these guys [my teammates] with everything.”

Branch, who will attend Towson University in Maryland this coming fall, changed his delivery for the game, electing to pitch the entire outing from the stretch.

“I have been working on a splitter and right now I can really only grip it out of the stretch because when I am in the wind up I come straight out of the glove,” said Branch. “Throwing from the stretch makes you feel like there is always someone on base, which feels like there is more pressure on you. It makes me really focus on the hitter.”

Palmieri advised his starter to go with what he felt made him most comfortable.

“He started from the stretch in the bullpen and he told me he felt really comfortable with it,” Palmieri said. “I told him to stay there, stay comfortable and get back to the basics.”

Branch was instantly granted run support from his teammates, as the Angels jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Wall extended its lead through out the muggy evening, totaling 16 hits against Pirate pitching. The game was ended after six innings, due to the 12-run league mercy rule.

Despite the large lead, Branch never got complacent on the mound.

“If you [change your approach with a lead] you might be reluctant to stay focused,” Branch said. “You always have to pitch it like its a zero-zero game.”

Branch’s former Manasquan teammate, Nick Lustrino, went 3-5 in the game, scoring two runs, as Kevin Fortunato went 2-2 with a double and an RBI, and Andrew Otterberg collecting two hits and 2 RBIs to lead the offense in the victory.

Even during the previous four game losing streak, Palmieri has felt Wall has been solid at the plate.

“In the losses we have been scoring a lot of runs, our pitching has just not been great as of late,” Palmieri said. “We scored eight runs in two of the losses. Our hitting is really starting to come around and we are not striking out as much.”

The Angels look ride the momentum of their victory over the Pirates into the final stretch of the season. It will begin with a double-header on Sunday, when Wall hosts the Monmouth Brewers for a 4:30 p.m. start at the Wall Municipal Complex.

“You take this win as a W, and you put it behind you,” said Branch. “You just roll with it and hope it carries over.”

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