It’s school budget vote and school board election day throughout New York today and it would seem that hopes and dreams hang in the balance everywhere around the state.
A whole different set of educational intangibles are in play at Mashashimuet Park this afternoon, the 2009 Pierson varsity baseball Whalers hosting the Port Jefferson Royals at 4 p.m. to open the Suffolk County Class C championships. The county title will be bestowed on the winner of a best-of-three series, game two set for Port Jefferson Thursday and game three, if needed, back in the park
Saturday at 11 a.m.
The Whalers took the regular season series, two games to one, winning 4-3 and 5-1 and losing 6-5. The two one-run games were hard-fought nail-biters, both teams playing with an intensity and flair that satisfied coaches and fans on both sides.
It is expected that the teams will send their aces to the mound today, Kyle McGowin for the Whalers and Brendan Duffy for the Royals.
The Whalers completed the season 12-6, third in the league, just ahead of 10-8 Port Jefferson. A pair of Class B schools finished first and second, 14-4 Southold/Greenport earning the tie-breaker over 14-4 Center Moriches.
In every great story there’s a moment when the hero seems destined to fail, the challenges and the particulars having grown beyond what can reasonably be overcome. But in every hero there’s a resolve that makes the impossible possible.
While not every high school varsity baseball game follows such a storybook script, last Friday’s contest between Pierson and Center Moriches in Mashashimuet Park certainly had a sweet ending for the Whalers. The boys fired out to a 9-0 lead and held off the Devils, 9-3, to give the visitors their first league loss of the season and improve their own league mark to 5-3.
The win keeps the Whalers within sight of the playoffs, five more wins in their next ten league contests being required for a Class C berth. None of those wins will come easy if the first eight games of the season are any measure of what the Whalers are likely to face the rest of the way.
Today, the Pierson varsity travels to Stony Brook in a make-up of a twice-postponed series finale. The other two games of that series went to the Whalers, but both times the Bears had the tying or winning runs on when the final out was made.
Tomorrow, the boys are in Hampton Bays for a non-league contest at 4 p.m. and Saturday they host East Hampton at 10 a.m. in another non-league match-up.
League play resumes Tuesday, undefeated league-leader Port Jefferson coming into the park to open a three-game series at 4:30 p.m. The boys take the long ride to the Royals Wednesday and are back home next Friday, again at 4:30 p.m.
Center Moriches made off with the first two games of the Pierson series by scoring in bunches, the top of the Devil line-up getting on and the middle hitters launching long blasts. The scores in those games were 10-3 and 12-0, perhaps leaving the Whaler faithful to wonder whether the one-sided outcomes were a true measure of their team.
When Pierson’s starting pitcher, Casey Crowley, walked the first two Devil batters Friday, it looked like the Whalers were in for more of the same suffering. But then everything changed, Crowley striking out two long-ball hitters, one swinging, one looking, and getting the Devils’ biggest home run threat to bounce out weakly to third.
That intense resolve to win carried into the Whalers’ first at-bat. Crowley led off the Pierson first by drawing a walk and stealing second, coming into score when Gavin Kudlak singled into left field.
Kudlak kept the rally going, stealing second on the first pitch to Joe Mascali and moving to third when Mascali singled. Eddie Schall drove in Kudlak by knocking a grounder to the right side and although Mascali was eventually left stranded, the 2-0 lead was all the Whalers needed to feel the game was theirs.
One, then Six More
Crowley made short work of the bottom of the Devils order in the top of the second and bunted the Whalers to another run in the home half, bringing in Joey Dowling on a squeeze play. Dowling had lined a one-out single to left to get on, advancing to third on a single to right by Dane Riva.
In the third, Crowley pitched through an infield error and earned an out at home the hard way by quickly covering the plate on a pitch that skipped through to the backstop. That heads-up defense kept the pressure on the Devils, the Whalers taking advantage in the bottom of the inning, a walk, an error, an infield out and four singles running up six quick runs and pushing the lead to 9-0. The rally started with Schall drawing a one-out walk and the Devil infield misplaying a Brandon Kruel grounder in a hurried attempt at a double play. After a Tyler Gilbride single loaded the bases, Dowling drove in one run on a fielder’s choice before Riva singled again to knock in two more.
Crowley singled right after Riva, Kudlak stepping in and swatting a single to right field to bring home two more runners and knock the Devil starter from the game. A walk to Mascali loaded the bases for Schall, who battled long enough to have Crowley scamper home on a wild pitch before being set down on strikes.
Pierson’s 9-0 lead lasted until the sixth when a walk, a single, another walk and a ground out earned Center Moriches their first run. The Devils added a pair in their half of the seventh, a double, a triple and a sacrifice fly making the score 9-3, before Crowley induced a ground out and a fly ball to right to end the game.
In going the distance in his first start of the season, Crowley scattered five hits and seven walks, striking out four. The error in the third was the only one made behind him, the Whaler outfield tracking down the long fly balls hit by the middle of the Center Moriches line-up and the infield picking up everything else.
In coming off the field after the last out, Crowley came in to hug his coach, his father Sean Crowley, who later described the moment asÂ “heartfelt. It was great; the stars aligned. All the things we did Friday worked and we earned ourselves a big win. Now everyone knows that we’re for real and that we can play with the best. That means we have to keep working even harder than we have been, because now we’re a team to beat.”
Going into yesterday’s game with Hampton Bays, Kudlak, a sophomore, led the Whalers in batting with 11 hits and a .407 average. Team captain and senior Crowley trailed him with a .357 average and a .438 on-base percentage.
On the mound, Kyle McGowin is 2-1 with 14 strikeouts in 14 innings and Mascali is 2-1 with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings.
The relief pitching of junior T.J. Arreguin, who came into the second Devil’s game on short notice and threw four innings of three-hit ball, has given Coach Crowley more to work with in the middle of the diamond. Also, the line drive hitting of juniors Riva and Dowling has added a new dimension to the bottom of the batting order, setting up Crowley and Kudlak as they come to bat.
“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.
The idea is to get ‘em on, move ‘em up and get ‘em in. It sounds a bit like the theme to TV’s Rawhide, but a softball team that does that sees the wins add up; those that leaves runners on risk having losses do the same instead.
After a quick set of games this week, the Pierson varsity softball Lady Whalers have shown they can swing the bats. Sparked by timely hitting, the girls opened League VIII play with a one-sided 10-2 win on Friday in Center Moriches.
A few of those hits and a couple of those runs would have come in nicely the next day, but instead Rocky Point came into Mashashimuet Park and made off with a 5-4 win, the bats getting quiet and cold late in a non-league game.
The bats were anything but silent Tuesday against Mercy, 11 Pierson runners reaching base, seven by base hit. All that was missing was a booming blast or a timely bloop to break the game open. Instead, Mercy took advantage of an infield miscue to push across the game’s only run, an errant throw with two outs in the fifth giving the visitors the edge.
Lady Whaler’s coach Melissa Edwards described Tuesday’s game as “not pretty. We should have come away with a win. We stranded 11. It was a tough loss for the kids because I know the work they’ve put in, and they have high expectations.”
Â “Something is not clicking and this coming week we are going to dissect our hitting and see what we need to do get runners across the plate. We have great hitters, they just need to step into the box and believe they can deliver and put the ball in play. Once we get runners on we move them; we are very aggressive. Now we just need to finish.”
Coach Edwards said the team’s first win Friday “was just fun to watch. The girls came out ready to play from the first pitch to the last. It was a complete team effort. They played solid defense and all of them used their bats, got on base and made things happen.”
In re-capping individual performances, she said, “Sam Federico started the game as the pitcher, hit her spots well and kept their lineup shut down, finishing with four innings of two-hit ball. Sam also went four-for-four on the day with two home runs and six RBIs, Kaci Koehne had a standout day at the plate, going three-for-four and Natalie Abbene went three-for-four as well.”
Her comments on Saturday’s loss echoed those of Tuesday’s, seeing her team “keep it close, but we stranded too many runners. As a team, we can get kids on; it just comes down to getting them to cross the plate. Melanie Stafford was our pitcher and she threw well and I just wish we were able to give her the ‘W’. It just goes to show how important capitalizing with runners on is.”
The Lady Whalers, now 1-1 in league play and 1-3 overall, have Southold/Greenport coming to the park tomorrow for a 4:30 start. On Saturday, the girls scrimmage at William Floyd at 10 a.m. and on Tuesday they host Hampton Bays in the park at 2 p.m.
The JV Lady Whalers have started their league schedule 2-0, outscoring Center Moriches 20-2 and Mercy 15-5; a 8-5 loss to Ross in the park Monday makes their overall record 3-2.
JV coach Kathy Amicucci has been pleased by the pitching of Lindsey Duran, who started all four games this week and “kept her head regardless of what’s going on behind her.”
Saturday’s 6-5 win over Rocky Point came in extra innings, a Rebecca Speckenbach double knocking in Samantha James in the bottom of the ninth. Coach Amicucci felt her team played well and complemented their ability to “brush off their mistakes and keep going.”
The team highlight of the week came Tuesday, when illness and injury left the JV with just nine players. By moving players around and finding suitable positions for role players, Chelsea Freleng, Gemma Gardella, and Brittany Scala, Coach Amicucci was delighted to see the solid result, a 15-5 win.
Going through some of the best individual performances, Coach Amicucci described the aggressive baserunning of Jessica Warne and the consistent hitting of Sam James, but seem most thrilled by Freleng’s long triple in the loss to the Ravens.