By Benito Vila
This is the week the Pierson baseball Whalers have been preparing for since March. The schedule has them completing a series with Port Jefferson and opening one with Southold/Greenport, two teams that perennially play for the League VIII crown. How the boys fare against this pair has, of late, determined the likelihood of post-season play and defined their ability to compete at a higher level.
A determined 4-3 win over Port Jeff on Tuesday afternoon in Mashashimuet Park, improved the Whalers’ record to 7-3 in League VIII, 8-5 overall, and further demonstrated a playoff potential. Yesterday the boys set off for Port Jefferson for game two of their series with the Royals, looking to move up in the standings and get closer to the second-place Clippers (8-2) and first place Center Moriches (11-1).
Game three of their series with the Royals is set for tomorrow in the park, first pitch at 4:30 p.m. The Whalers make their way to Southold Tuesday to open that series there, playing the Clippers in the park Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. and finishing up away next Friday. Both of the games in Southold also start at 4:30 p.m.
Ten league wins are required for post-season play this season and by notching two this week, the Whalers are already closing in on that mark. Last Thursday, the team blew out Stony Brook 15-3, a seven-run sixth inning breaking the game open.
Tuesday’s win was harder to earn, Pierson taking a 1-0 lead in the first, and seeing Port Jeff tie in the fifth. A three-run rally in the bottom of the fifth put the boys up 4-1, but that was barely enough, the Royals scoring twice in the top of the seven and getting runners to first and third before the final out was made.
The Whalers also played a pair of non-league games this week, four Pierson errors leading to a 9-2 loss in Hampton Bays Friday and the Baymen returning the favor in the park Saturday, their late-game fielding giving the boys a 4-3 win.
At Stony Brook
The Stony Brook game saw Pierson take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first Casey Crowley leading off with a single, stealing second, advancing the third on a Gavin Kudlak groundout to the right side and scoring on a Tyler Gilbride single to right. Kudlak preserved that lead by tracking down a deep drive to left in the bottom of the inning and nailing a runner trying to advance to third.
That play set the tone for the day, the Whalers turning three more double plays to keep the Bears from doing much on the bases. Two more came when Stony Brook runners were doubled off on infield line drives and the other came on a ground ball, shortstop Ryan Miller making the pivot on a feed from second baseman Jeff Schimmer.
Miller lifted his team to a 3-0 lead in the second, driving in Brandon Kruel, who had been hit by a pitch, and Dane Riva, who had walked.
Another walk and pair of wild pitches gave Pierson pitcher, Joe Mascali a 5-0 lead to work when he took the mound in the bottom of the inning.
Mascali, coming off a leg injury, threw three innings, striking out four, allowing two runs in the third when the Bears made the most of a pair of walks and a pair of bloop hits. Kyle McGowin came in to pitch three innings of scoreless relief, scattering three hits and two walks. Miller finished the game on the mound, coming in with the score 15-2 and getting the last three outs around a pair of walks and a run-scoring single.
Many of those 15 runs were unearned, the Bears booting balls in the fourth and fifth to put Pierson up 8-2. When a T.J. Arreguin single brought in Kudlak and Gilbride in the sixth, the rout was on, before another Stony Brook error set up a two-run single by Crowley and allowed Kudlak to get up twice in the same inning. In that second at-bat, Kudlak completed the scoring, knocking in a run with his second single of the inning.
Against the Baymen
Pierson’s stellar play in the field Thursday was a thing of the past Friday, a long drive off bouncing off a Whaler outfielder and going over the fence for a home run in the bottom of the first. Another misplayed fly ball and a pair of doubles made the score 3-1 before the inning was done, Whaler pitcher Brandon Kruel striking out a pair to get off the field.
The Baymen gave a run back in the second, a Miller single, a Riva walk and two wild pitches getting the Whalers back on the board. A pair of Baymen doubles made the score 4-2 in the third, but it was five-batter sequence in the fourth that ended the day for Kruel, four more runs coming in on a pair of infield errors.
Kruel started off his final inning well, striking out two of the first three batters, giving him six in three and two-thirds innings of work. He left the game after the second error, his team down 8-2, knowing just two of the eight runs were earned.
Arreguin came in to finish the frame and went on to finish the game, throwing two and two-thirds innings of one-run relief, striking out four and walking no one. But, despite that work, his teammates were unable to cut into the Hampton Bay lead and they all came home with a dispiriting 9-2 loss.
The boys had a chance to bounce back right away Saturday morning, but it wasn’t until the fifth inning when they came to, Hampton Bays already in the lead 3-0 after scoring a run in the first and two more in their fifth.
Arreguin was the whole of the Whaler rally in the fifth, singling with one out, taking third when an effort to pick him off first failed and scoring on a wild pitch.
Pierson closed to within one in a more traditional way in the sixth, McGowin drawing a walk, stealing second, advancing to third on an Ed Schall single and scoring on a fielder’s choice.
Down 3-2 coming into their last at-bat, Pierson tied the score, a pair of walks and an infield error loading the bases and Gilbride stroking a grounder into the middle of the infield, leaving the Baymen to get an out at second rather than at home.
With Crowley on third and Gilbride on first, the pressure was on Hampton Bays to make a play, but that was not to be, a pitch in the dirt getting by the Baymen catcher and Crowley coming in ahead of the throw to the pitcher to give Pierson a 4-3 victory.
It was Crowley who kept his teammates in the game, pitching six innings of four-hit ball, striking out 11 and walking three. Only two of his three runs were earned. McGowin came in to pitch the seventh, giving up a single but setting down the side on three strikeouts, and getting the win when Pierson went ahead.
Port Jeff Tuesday
McGowin was the starter Tuesday and cruised through the first four innings. The Whalers held a 1-0 lead after their first at-bat, Crowley drawing a lead-off walk, advancing to second on a Kudlak sacrifice bunt and scoring on a McGowin double to right. The Royals put a run together in the fifth, a lead-off walk, a stolen base and a single, tying the game.
The game didn’t stay knotted up for long Miller leading off the Whaler fifth with single and stealing second to put the pressure back on Port Jeff. Joe Dowling’s swing had the Royals back, making his little roller unplayable and giving the Whalers runners at first and third with no one out.
A walk to Riva loaded the bases and set up Crowley who delivered a long sacrifice fly to center to put Pierson up 2-1. A Kudlak single to left re-filled the bases, with McGowin stepping in and nailing a single up the middle to make the score 4-1.
The Whaler lead was safe until the seventh when the Royals bunched up two infield hits and two short pokes into the outfield around a pair of force outs to make the score 4-3. That flurry left runners on the corners with two outs, the tying run and third and the go-ahead run at first, McGowin still on the mound and urgency resonate on both sides.
With a 0-1 count, the Royals’ final batter bounced a ball to Gilbride at second who fielded it cleanly and tagged the runner going to second, ending what was a long inning for the Whalers quickly and suddenly curtailing the Royals’ rally.
After the game, Pierson varsity coach Sean Crowley seemed satisfied by his team’s position, saying, “I like 7-3. We’re all feeling good right now and we’re getting closer to where we want to be.”
McGowin leads the team with four wins against one loss, notching 34 strikeouts in 32 innings. Mascali is 3-1 with 18 strikeouts in his 17 innings. Crowley is 1-0 with 16 strikeouts in his 14 innings.
Crowley leads the team in runs scored with 12. He and McGowin have driven in the most, each with eight RBIs. Kudlak’s two hits Tuesday boosted his average to .358 with Crowley close behind at .325.