By Gavin Menu; photography and reporting by Michael Heller
A second straight banner season came to a disappointing end for the Pierson-Bridgehampton baseball team Saturday evening in Binghamton, where the Whalers lost 7-2 to the Hoosic Valley Indians in the championship game of the New York State Class C baseball tournament.
After falling short in the state semifinal last year, the team returned with a strong core of seniors and took their journey one step farther with a 4-1 win over Bolivar-Richburg in the first of two semifinals played early Saturday.
Hoosic Valley, which knocked off defending Class C Champion Seton Catholic in the other semifinal, fell behind Pierson, 2-0, early in the championship game, which represented the grueling back end of a rare high school double-header and started close to 6 p.m.
Perhaps it was fatigue, perhaps it was just fate, but the wheels fell off for the Whalers (16-4) in the fourth inning.
With Senior Forrest Loesch on the mound and the Indians having tied the score at 2-2 in the third inning, Pierson head coach Jon Tortorella sent senior knuckleballer Nick Kruel in with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth.
Kruel, who had started and pitched a complete game in the semifinal victory a few hours earlier, did not have his usual stuff and allowed the Indians to score five runs before Tim Markowski came on in relief to close out the inning with the Whalers trailing, 7-2.
Neither team mounted much of an attack during the final innings, and Hoosic Valley, which was the home team in the game, closed the book following a scoreless top of the seventh.
“We knew coming in here that it was going to be a battle, the other team was going to want it and we wanted it just as bad,” senior catcher Aaron Schiavoni said after the game ended. “It wasn’t there today, but it’s nothing to hang our heads about. When I started four years ago no one knew where Pierson or Sag Harbor was. Now, being able to come upstate twice and being able to accomplish championships and titles and southeast regional championships, we definitely made a name for ourselves.”
Pierson baseball has been on a quite a run these last two years. Against league competition, the Whalers lost just one game and that was in April of 2013 to this year’s state Class D Champion, Smithtown Christian. A series of dramatic postseason triumphs led Pierson on its two straight trips upstate.
In their semifinal victory, the Whalers scored three runs to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning and then rode the right arm of Kruel, who will pitch next year at the University of Tampa.
“It’s an awesome feeling making it past where we got last year,” Kruel said after his semifinal victory. “It was a really big team win. I threw strikes and the defense made outs and in the end we started hitting a little bit and got some runs. It’s just a great feeling.”
It was Loesch who got things going in the sixth inning, earning a walk before advancing to second on a bunt by Markowski. He came home on an RBI by Theo Gray for the go-ahead run, and the Whalers added two more for insurance.
“That game was really about capitalizing on opportunities, and us getting out of our jam when we were on defense,” Tortorella said. “But they were solid, Nick was great, and we did what we?had to do to score runs. It was a great overall team effort.”
The loss in the final ended the impressive careers of a handful of seniors who have been together since they were young boys, playing on the diamonds of Sag Harbor Little League. Loesch, Kruel, Markowski, Schiavoni and Kyle Sturmann made up the core of a team that won back-to-back league, Suffolk County, Long Island and regional titles for Pierson, falling one win short of the ultimate prize. They will graduate later this month along with fellow seniors Henry Kotz, a Bridgehampton student, and Ulysses Poulmentis.
“Right now we’re just worried about today, but in the grand scheme of things we realize what a great job they did, what a great season it was, what a tremendous team this is,” Tortorella said. “Right now it stings, but when the dust settles we’ll look back and realize just how important the things that we learned this year are.”