By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
The Pierson-Bridgehampton baseball team was held hitless but still scored the only run of the game off a sacrifice fly in the first inning to knock off Friends Academy, 1-0, in Friday’s Long Island Class C Championship game.
The Whalers returned to the Dowling College Sports Complex on Saturday and defeated Haldane High School, 5-1, to win the regional title and advance for the second straight year to the New York State Class C semifinals, to be played this Saturday in Binghamton.
After the team’s bats went silent against Friends Academy, one last sacrifice was in order.
Before boarding the bus for the Southeast Regional Final on Saturday, the team conducted a short, but meaningful ceremony. In an effort to put to rest the memory of a game in which they failed to slap a single hit, the Whalers burned a bag full of bats.
“It was something for us to alleviate the pressure on the boys,” head coach Jon Tortorella said on Monday, pointing out that the ceremony included only a small number of largely unusable bats. “A little something to lighten the mood, and it brought some positive energy to their bats.”
Before their bats came alive on Saturday, the Whalers relied on old fashioned starting pitching from a pair of seniors. Nick Kruel pitched complete-game gem on Friday against Friends, and Forrest Loesch went the distance against Haldane.
Senior Tim Markowski, who was injured for much of the year, led the way on Saturday with a pair of hits, two RBIs and a stolen base, while Loesch pitched his best game of the season, allowing just four hits while striking out four.
“Pretty much everything was working,” Tortorella said about Loesch. “He had command of all his pitches and he was throwing strikes. He pitched extremely well.”
The Whalers will face Bolivar-Richburg from Section V in Saturday’s semifinal, with the first pitch set for 10 a.m. Seton Catholic, the team that knocked off Pierson in the state semifinal last year, will face Hoosic Valley in the other bracket, with the championship game played later on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Friends starter Matt Feinstein held Pierson hitless on Friday, with the Whalers Johnny Chisholm scoring the only run of the game off a sac fly from Aaron Schiavoni in the first inning. What won the game late, however, was the exceptional defense and knuckleball from Kruel, who held the Quakers to just five hits, two walks and no runs on 64 pitches.
“Respect to the other pitcher,” Kruel said moments after the game ended, deflecting the attention that comes from being a knuckleballer who seems to get better with every start. “And big ups to Johnny for taking second and coming home on a sacrifice fly. That’s baseball.”
The biggest defensive play of the game for Pierson came in the fifth inning with one out and runners on the corners for the Quakers. A ground ball hit directly to Loesch at shortstop went to first for the second out of the inning. Friends base runner Narain Badhey tried to score from third on the play, only to be tagged out by Schiavoni, who sat on home plate and handled a perfect strike from Markowski at first base.
“I knew Tim was going to put it right there for me,” Schiavoni said later. “The biggest thing today was our defense. We knew if we got one run, we’d have a chance. To win this game, in this way, getting no hits, speaks volumes about our defense.”
And then on Saturday, with a little help from their sacrificial bats, the Whalers’ offense came through as well with clutch hits and timely base running.
But will the Whalers require another voodoo-like ceremony before their return to the state semifinals on Saturday?
“I think last year was our first time getting there,” Tortorella said. “We wanted to win the whole thing, obviously, but it was nice just getting there. This time we’re there to really do something.”