By Gavin Menu
Sometimes, with baseball, greatness can be made or lost off something as simple as an awkward bounce or slight misjudgment on a routine fly ball.
Such was the case Saturday in Binghamton, New York, where a pitcher’s duel between two outstanding southpaws turned on a pair of untimely defensive miscues by the Pierson-Bridgehampton Whalers.
So it was at the end of this dream season that the Whalers fell short of their ultimate goal and lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Seton Catholic Central Saints from Section IV in the first New York State Class C semifinal at Broome Community College.
Seton Catholic, which is located in Binghamton, went on to win the afternoon final, 9-0, over Geneseo Central to claim the school’s first-ever state baseball championship.
Pitching on two days rest, senior Colman Vila pitched another big game for Pierson, allowing just one unearned run in the top of the third inning. In the process, Vila tied a New York State record by posting a 0.00 ERA for the entire season, a remarkable feat that has happened only twice in the recorded history of high school baseball in New York, once in 1988 and again in 2010.
Saints ace Michael Korchak, a junior who had not pitched in a week, matched Vila inning for inning and dominated the Pierson line-up, striking out 12 while allowing just four hits and a walk.
Seton Catholic centerfielder, Joe Wasko, reached base with two outs in the third inning on a triple that might have been a single if not for a misplayed line drive that slipped past a charging Jake Bennett in right field. Wasko, who had two hits in the game, then scored on a defensive error when Kyle Sturmann bounced the ball off the end of his glove on a weak pop fly toward the hole between first and second base.
“It just came down to a few plays and the ball didn’t bounce our way today,” said junior captain Aaron Schiavoni, who will return to lead the Whalers again next season. “You know coming into these games it’s going to be a battle. Both teams fought their whole season to get here. They played great and Colman pitched great. He left it all out on the field and gave us the best chance to win.“
The Whalers put runners on base in every inning except the sixth, with leadoff hitter Jack Fitzpatrick reaching on a single in the first, Forrest Loesch on a double in the second and James Sherry drawing a walk in the third. Vila dug out an infield single in the fourth inning, Joe Faraguna had a single in the fifth while Loesch reached again on an error in the bottom of the seventh.
Using an effective mix of fastballs and off-speed pitches to keep the Whalers off balance, Korchak escaped every time.
“A few of their guys were out in front, so then I would close them with the curve,” Korchak said afterwards. “It’s been a crazy season, so to pitch like this here is unbelievable.”
The loss ended what was an otherwise spectacular season for the Whalers, who finished with a 23-2 record. Over the last two seasons, Pierson went 44-6 while Vila was 19-1 over the same stretch.
Saturday’s loss was the first for Vila, —who plans to play at the University of Delaware next year — since his sophomore season. He had eight strikeouts on Saturday and allowed only five hits while pitching on just two days rest. He was coming off an emotional and physically-demanding stretch in which he tossed a no-hitter to win the Long Island Class C championship on June 4 before coming back a day later to record five outs and earn the save in a tight 5-4 win over Haldane in the Southeast Regional.
Vila allowed one unearned run early in the season to Smithtown Christian, another to Southold in the Suffolk County playoffs and then the unfortunate unearned run on Saturday that left the Whalers two wins short of a state title.
“He’s been there for us everyday whenever we asked him,” head coach Jon Tortorella said about Vila. “He’s not as well rested as he usually is and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He was tremendous.”
The Whalers reached Saturday’s final as a result of the win over Haldane, in which Bennett pitched five plus innings before being replaced by Vila on the mound for the last five outs. Two juniors, Nick Kruel and Tim Markowski, were the stars offensively with two RBIs apiece.
Kruel, Markowski, Loesch, Fitzpatrick, Sherry, Sturmann and Schiavoni will lead a strong contingent of returning players that includes almost the entire roster aside from Vila, Bennett and Faraguna, who, with two surgically-repaired knees, sprinted up the first baseline with every ounce of energy he could muster before recording the game’s final out on a play that was much closer than it should have been.
“I told Joey when we were playing Haldane and he was up in a big spot ‘I would rather have no one up here except for you right now’,” Tortorella said when asked about Faraguna. “And I felt the same way today. That kid’s a warrior.”
Based on their returning players, the Whalers should have a chance next season to play for additional titles. When asked on Saturday what the goal would be for next year, Schiavoni did not hesitate.
“Come back here,” the catcher said simply. “We know what it takes now, we know what we’re up against and we know this feeling and we’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”