It had all come down to this: Bottom of the seventh in a scoreless game, two outs, base runners at the corners, the count 1-2 on Pierson’s ace and number-two hitter, Colman Vila.
And heeeere’s the pitch . . . a change curve into the dirt, Vila waves at it in vain, the umpire signals strike three . . . and Pierson wins the Long Island Class C championship 1-0!
Inasmuch as Ben Gilberti, East Rockaway’s catcher, had let the ball get by him, and, as it rolled toward Dowling College’s backstop the joyous pinch-runner from third, Jack Fitzpatrick, a freshman recently brought up from the junior varsity, and his whooping teammates who had emptied the dugout rushed to greet one another at home plate.
It was the first Long Island championship for the Sag Harbor school since 2006, when Andrew Mayer pitched the Whalers, then coached by Sean Crowley, to a 5-2 victory over, yes, East Rockaway.
Jon Tortorella, who coaches the baseball team now, said afterward that it was his prize left-hander’s “best performance of the season.”
Vila, an impressive pitcher who exudes confidence, thus improved his personal record to 10-0, and was to have gotten one day of rest before facing either Haldane or Tri-Valley in Westchester County yesterday. A win in that regional final would enable the Whalers to play in the state Final Four in Binghamton on Saturday.
Monday’s Long Island championship clash was tense throughout, for East Rockaway’s ace, Billy Humes, a lefty like Vila, was also effective. Even though he was to give up five walks that day, he limited the Whalers to two hits — a single by Forrest Loesch to lead off the bottom of the sixth and a single by Michael Heller to lead off the bottom the seventh.
Meanwhile, Vila, who had to work himself out of several jams, aided by his teammates’ largely sharp defensive play, pitched a four-hit shutout, striking out six, walking two, and hitting two batsmen.
East Rockaway had runners in scoring position in the first, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh, but each time the Whalers kept the Nassau champs at bay.
Following two errors in the top of the sixth, one by Hunter Leyser, the left fielder, who dropped the ball in trying to tag out a runner at second in a rundown play, and one by the first baseman, Emet Evjen, who dropped Jake Bennett’s subsequent throw across the diamond, putting runners at the corners with one out, Vila struck out Humes and the Whalers caught Mikey Lores, whom Vila had earlier hit with a pitch, in a rundown between third and home.
Loesch, as aforesaid, led off Pierson’s sixth with a base hit to right field, the first hit of the game for the home team. Aaron Schiavoni, the catcher and cleanup hitter, followed with a flyout to right. Paul Dorego then hit a ball to John Neckles at third that looked as if it might result in a 5-4-3 double play, but Neckles threw wide of second and Loesch went on to third, with Dorego reaching first base safely on the fielder’s choice.
That brought up Sean Hartnett, who lofted a high fly ball to left. Loesch tagged up as Cameron Ralph wound up to throw home and, in passing inside the baseline, avoided Gilberti’s diving attempt to tag him up the line on his way to the plate.
Amid the cheers, Loesch, who had returned to the dugout, was told to go back and step on the plate just to make sure. After he’d done so, however, it was East Rockaway’s turn to cheer, its players having been assured that the umpires had ultimately ruled that Loesch — who seemed not to be outside the three-foot-wide basepath when Gilberti tried to tag him — was out, apparently because in running inside the baseline he had impeded the play.
Tortorella and one of his assistants, Henry Meyer, a former catcher with the East End Tigers, Pace University, and East Hampton High School, went out to get some clarification from the plate umpire. That night, when questioned further, Tortorella said, “It was confusing. . . . I’m glad the game didn’t hinge on that play.”
So, on to the seventh. After Dan McClure popped out to Evjen to lead it off, Vila walked Joe Lores on a 3-2 pitch, but struck out Gilberti with a 1-2 fastball at the knees. A base hit followed, however, putting runners at first and second for Ralph, East Rockaway’s leadoff hitter.
“Outfielders, you’re coming home!” Benito Vila, Colman’s father and another of Tortorella’s assistants, called out to Leyser, Hartnett, and Dorego. But they didn’t need to, for after fouling off several 0-2 offerings, Ralph took a called third strike.
Tortorella said he had been inclined to pinch-hit for his seventh batter, Michael Heller, when the bottom of the seventh began, but Heller, a senior, who had struck out in the second and walked in the fourth, would have none of it, assuring his coach that he would come through.
And, wonderful to tell, he did, singling to right on a 3-2 pitch. Fitzpatrick was brought in to run for Heller. Bump Hemby, who had won a county championship in basketball this winter with Bridgehampton’s Killer Bees, came in to pinch-hit for Bennett, and, with Hemby up, Humes, in trying to pick Fitzpatrick off, threw way wide of first, allowing the alert freshman to go all the way to third.
He had to stay there for a while, however, as Hemby grounded out to first unassisted and as Tim Markowski, pinch-hitting for Kyle Sturmann, fouled out to the right fielder not far behind first base.
After Humes fell behind 3-0 on Leyser, Leyser was intentionally walked, bringing up Vila and the strikeout heard ’round the South Fork.