He’s not going to make SportsCenter, but Hampton Whalers’ short stop David Leon, a freshman from Youngstown State, did make Sag Harbor sports history on Tuesday at Mashashimuet Park.
Public announcer Kevin Major screamed, “The Whalers Win! The Whalers win!” as the team mobbed Leon after his RBI with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the N.Y. Metro Cadets, 2-1.
And Tim Therrian, a junior from the University of Southern Maine, will not receive any endorsement deals, but the young pitcher did earn the respect of his teammates after back-to-back pressure packed performances on the mound.
When Leon’s base hit landed in the outfield grass, just over the second baseman’s head, winning the Whalers both their division and a chance to play in the ACBL Championship Game on Saturday, it capped an improbable run. It also landed the team a spot in the hearts of the fans that have embraced them for the past two and half months.
Leon said as soon as he made contact with the fastball, he knew the game was over.
“I knew it was going to drop by the way the defense was playing,” he said after the game.
Leon said though the Whalers started 0-6, they kept believing in each other. And they kept believing in their coach, manager Julio Vega, as well.
“We feed of him every game,” said Leon.
When Vega saw the Cadets’ right fielder give up on Leon’s ball, he became a spectator himself.
“I was just jumping up and down,” he said. “It was great just watching the guys’ reaction.”
Vega has been telling his players all summer to let the other team make the plays. Pitching and defense has never been an issue, but the bats have been at times hot and at other times not. Such was the case in the two game series against the Cadets, which began Monday night at St. John’s University when the offense accounted for an impressive ten runs. The Whalers beat the Cadets, 10-5.
But yesterday, it was all the Whalers could do to muster a hit here and there.Â The visitors took a one run lead early in the game and it looked as if the series might stretch to three games as Cadets’ pitcher Gabriel Duran from Dowling College was making quick work of the home team, at one point retiring nine Whalers in a row.
Gardner Leaver started for the Whalers and after giving up the one run in the top of the first, kept the Cadets in check for the next six innings.
“I told myself that’s the last run they’re getting,” said Leaver afterwards. “I knew my team could take it from there.”
The Whalers defense proved Leaver’s words true; there would be no more runs for the Cadets. In the seventh inning, a tired Leaver was pulled and the crowd stood and applauded. Therrian came in with two outs and threw a single pitch that was popped up to end the inning. Therrian retired three straight the next inning and then in the ninth set the stage for his offense.
The night before, at St. John’s, Therrian recorded the type of save that pitchers dream of. In the bottom of the ninth inning, he was called in to relieve Dan Rieser who retired three straight in the eighth inning but got into trouble in the ninth. Therrian stepped on the mound with the bases loaded, the winning run on deck and no outs.
“I was working the first batter pretty hard,” said Therrian. “The count was two and two and I threw a slider to strike him out.”
He struck out the next batter as well and got the third to pop up.
“It was a tough position to be in, but that just got me pumped up,” he said.
After Therrian took care of business in the ninth on Tuesday, it was left up to the Whalers’ bats. Duran hit catcher Chris Walker to start off the inning. Kyle Crean laid down a sac bunt to move Walker to second. Third baseman Mark Houck belted a line drive to the Cadet’s shortstop that let Walker move to third, while he hustled to get the base hit. Tom Coulombe hit a slow moving ball to the shortstop who, after stepping on second for the force out, made a bad throw to first allowing Coulombe to get to second base and scoring pinch runner John Flanagan to tie the game. With Coloumbe on second, Leon stepped up to the plate and the rest is history.
Vega described it as the best game of the summer and one of the best he’s ever been a part of. He’s been coaching in summer leagues for the last eight years but he’s never made it to the championship game.
“You always wonder how it’s going to feel,” he said. “I’m just proud of the guys. They worked their butts off.”
The team’s motto all season has been “hard nine” said Vega, which means play hard from the first inning to the last. On Tuesday, he said that’s exactly what they did.
“If Houck didn’t run hard to the base to try to make it to the bag, the double play is made and the game is over,” he said.
Vega also said it was extra special to be in Sag Harbor. He said it was great to see the fans that supported the team all season, all standing and jumping up when Leon’s ball landed in play. The Whalers went 12-1 at Mashashimuet and Vega said, “it makes you wonder what would’ve happened if we played all of our games there.”
“The community has been awesome,” he said. “They’ve been great, they adopted us as their own. The baseball gods definitely love us in Sag Harbor.”
Top photo: The Whalers mob Tom Coulombe after he scored the winning run on Tuesday.
Bottom photo: The Whalers stood up the entire game cheering on their teammates.