By Benito Vila
“A win’s a win, no matter how it comes,” said Pierson varsity baseball coach Sean Crowley as his Whalers gathered after shaking hands with Stony Brook in Mashashimuet Park Tuesday. There was great relief in those words, Coach Crowley seeing Pierson pitchers battle out of bases-loaded jams in the both the sixth and seventh innings to send the Bears back home with a 2-1 loss.
The Pierson win was far more important than the final score, the boys having lost a league contest to Mercy on Thursday, knowing league- leaders Center Moriches, Port Jefferson and Southold are soon on the schedule. That loss makes it necessary that the boys win all of their match-ups with Stony Brook and Smithtown Christian and at least two more from the top of the league if they are to qualify for the county tournament.
It may seem a little early to think about the end of the season already with so much of the schedule remaining and the Whalers sporting a 3-1 league mark going into last night’s game at Stony Brook, but no one seems to be saying that to the opposition. Each of the three games this week has had a playoff-like intensity, Pierson winning two and losing one, each contest ending with the tying or go- ahead runs on base.
On Tuesday the Center Moriches Red Devils will likely come into the park undefeated, providing the toughest early season test yet for this year’s Whalers. The Red Devils’ series is due to continue Wednesday in Center Moriches and then come back to the park next Friday, each of the games starting at 4:30 p.m. The Stony Brook rain out Monday will be made up April 20, giving Pierson more four tough league games before non-league contests with Hampton Bays and East Hampton take them into the Port Jefferson series.
The 2-1 Whaler win Tuesday was the kind of game coaches and players work hard in practice to avoid, but find themselves in all too often.
Both Whaler runs went into the scorebook as being unearned–that is following an error–but the Pierson runners certainly seemed to have earned their way around to score.
The first Whaler run came in the bottom of the first, lead-off batter Casey Crowley alertly taking advantage of a dropped third strike in beating the throw to first. With Gavin Kudlak at the plate, Crowley stole second and then came into score when Kudlak singled to center.
Good pitching and defense, aided by some lackluster baserunning, kept the Whalers from scoring again until the fifth. Then, with one out, Jimmy Fusco drew a walk with Dane Riva coming in to pinch run. Riva stole second and advanced to third when Crowley knocked a ground ball to the right side, scampering home on a wild pitch during a Kudlak at-bat.
The Whalers had opportunities in other innings, leaving runners at third three times, but Bear pitcher Brian Harrington held them off, scattering three hits and four walks around eight strikeouts. Pierson starting pitcher Joe Mascali matched those totals in his six innings, and kept himself out of trouble until the sixth when a bases-loaded walk forced in Stony Brook’s run and cut the Whaler lead in half.
That walk prompted a visit to the mound from a concerned Coach Crowley, who came away leaving his senior captain in control with the game on the line. Mascali made the most of the moment striking out the next batter on four pitches to close out his day.
Junior Kyle McGowin was summoned for the save and quickly took charge striking out the first batter. He overcame a misplay in the infield by cutting down that runner at second base on a sacrifice bunt attempt. A walk and another error loaded the bases with Bears and set up a dramatic last out, a sinking liner to center caught on the run by Mascali with all the Stony Brook baserunners on the move.
It’s no wonder Coach Crowley came in relieved. Afterwards, he praised both sides saying, “Harrington had a great game and pitched and hit his way through some obvious back pain, but Joe provided the same thing we got from Kyle in last week’s series opener: dominating pitching. Now we have a win against their number one pitcher and now we go there. We have to take care of business against their number two and come back after our break to take care of Center Moriches Tuesday.”
It’s Never Over
Pierson’s last two games against Mercy ended much the same way, the outcome in question until the final out. Last Wednesday, things went the Whalers way in a 5-3 win in the park and Thursday Mercy made the final out in the field to send the Whalers home with an 8-6 loss.
A four-run second put Pierson up early last Wednesday. A pair of walks to McGowin and Riva and a sacrifice bunt by Tyler Gilbride set up an RBI single by Kudlak, with the Whalers keeping the pressure on when Crowley stroked a two-run double after an infield error.
The Whaler lead went to 5-0 in the third, McGowin singling and stealing two bases before coming in on a Gilbride RBI single. Mercy made its way back into the game against Mascali, an infield error in the midst of three hits, making the score 5-3. A long fly ball to left with two runners on was flagged down by Fusco, who made over-the-shoulder catch on the run to keep the Whalers in the lead.
Ed Schall came in to relieve Mascali and earned the save, but not before a slick double-steal moved Mercy runners to second and third with two outs in the top of the seventh. A comebacker to Schall seemed to end the threat, but it was only Mascali’s quick reflexes at first that nailed down the final out, Schall’s too hard throw nearly sailing into right field.
Errant throwing was the key culprit in last Thursday’s loss at Mercy to end that three-game set. Five errors behind pitcher Brandon Kruel put Mercy up 7-1, Kruel undermining his own day further by walking three in the fourth before a bloop hit knocked him from the game.
Determined to get back in the game, Pierson scored three in the top of the fifth, a Kudlak double and walks to Crowley and Ryan Miller setting up an RBI single by Mascali and an RBI double by McGowin. Unfortunately for the Whalers, another infield throwing error gave one of those runs back in the bottom of the fifth and made for an frantic top of the seventh.
The Whalers came up for their last at-bat down 8-4, the top of the line-up set to hit, Crowley leading off with a double. A called strike three, a walk and a force play, put the pressure back on Pierson, but Gilbride came through with an RBI single, Kruel walked and Kudlak singled to drive in another run, loading the bases and putting the tying run on second. The on-field drama became ever more intense as the count grew deeper on the next Pierson batter, but a swinging strike three sent the boys back to the bus disappointed.
Beyond the never-say-die effort, the other bright spots on Thursday were the pitching of senior shortstop Ryan Miller, who relieved Kruel with two-and-a-third innings of one-hit relief, and the hitting of sophomores Kudlak (three hits) and Gilbride (two hits), the pair adding punch and speed to the Whaler offense.
It’s All Whalers
The Whaler baseball JV played a pair of one-sided contests this week, game two against Mercy last Wednesday ending 18-1 after five innings and game one against Stony Brook Tuesday finishing 15-1 after four. The rain outs against those opponents have not yet been scheduled, but will be when school re-opens next week.
JV coach Henry Meyer was happy “to see everyone in and see almost everyone hitting.” He had his team practice slow rollers during indoor sessions this week and then saw his team successfully execute those quick pick-ups and releases for outs on Tuesday.