There has been talk about whether this year’s Pierson (Sag Harbor) High School baseball team is the best that ever was, though the Whalers’ coach, Jon Tortorella, is more interested in what the next game will bring.
That next game — the first in a best-of-three county Class C championship series with Southold — was to have been played at the Harbor’s Mashashimuet Park Monday afternoon, though despite the fact that the weather permitted — it was a gray day, though otherwise pleasant — Section XI, the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk, called it off.
It really was raining here Tuesday, and more was predicted for yesterday, and even, perhaps, for today. In the meanwhile, the 18-2 Whalers, who clinched a playoff berth in April, were anticipating the postseason.
As for being the best ever, Bob Vishno, a former longtime baseball and basketball coach at the Sag Harbor school, said, “This school has a strong baseball tradition and we’ve had a lot of great athletes go through here. It’s hard to say they’re the best. It appears they’re one of the best, but one of the best among many.”
Tortorella, during a conversation following Monday’s practice at the park, was not inclined to argue the point. In fact, he said, “if you look at our games this season, every one of them has been a battle. Even the ones in which we scored 6, 8, or 10 runs. We always had a big inning, and those big innings were what made the difference in what essentially were back-and-forth games.”
There were a number of close games: In one of them it took the Whalers 11 innings to edge Port Jefferson 9-8; the Whalers played three one-run games with Smithtown Christian, losing one, and lost a game to Southold by a score of 3-0.
Still, as is the key to any exceptional team, the Whalers, while they don’t have much depth — “Smithtown Christian has 10 kids who can pitch, really pitch” — have a good mound corps, led by the assistant coach Benito Vila’s son, Colman, whose record going into the Class C final was 8-0.
Asked about him, Tortorella said, “He has tremendous control, he can change speeds, and has a command of all the pitches. He understands what it takes — he gets the job done.”
In the aforementioned 9-8 win over Port Jeff, Vila “came out of the bullpen in the third inning when we were trailing 8-4 and pitched seven innings of shutout ball. We were down to our last at-bat, with two outs and nobody on, when Colman doubled. A walk followed, and Aaron Schiavoni hit a two-run double to tie the score and send the game into extra innings.”
When the season began, Forrest Loesch, one of four or five who came over from Pierson’s feisty boys basketball team, was the number-two starter, but a shoulder injury intervened. He returned to action about two weeks ago, not as a pitcher, but as the team’s shortstop. In his absence, Tortorella had to mix and match in the infield and at the bottom of the lineup. But that was “a good problem to have,” said the coach, inasmuch as it gave others a chance to play.
Jake Bennett took over as Pierson’s number-two pitcher when Loesch got hurt, and “has done really well. He made the all-league team [as did five other Whalers] as a pitcher.”
Schiavoni, the catcher, also pitches, as do, in short stints, Tim Markowski, Kyle Sturmann, Emet Evjen, Brendan Hemby — the sole Bridgehampton student — and Michael Heller.
Hunter Leyser, who plays left field and third base, tops Pierson’s batting order, followed by Vila, who plays in right field when he’s not pitching, Loesch, Schiavoni, Paul Dorego, an outfielder and backup catcher, and Sean Hartnett, the center fielder. In the seventh and eighth spots Tortorella has been alternating Heller, Bennett, and Markowski — “who can play any position” — and Sturmann, the second baseman, bats ninth.
As for hitting, “we’ve been getting contributions from everyone top to bottom, and from our bench too. We’ve got speed also, which helps. . . . Our outfielders can run down anything, though the infield is young, with some kids playing a little out of position. We could be better in that respect. . . .”
It was by no means a given that his charges would beat Southold (which finished in third place in League IX) in the Class C final, said Tortorella, who’s in his third year of coaching the varsity. “We don’t have an advantage going in — we’ve got to beat them.”