By Benito Vila
It seemed a perfect finish Friday. The Pierson baseball Whalers were on the field in Mashashimuet Park in the top of the seventh, up 5-4, after taking the lead in the bottom of the sixth and needed just three outs to sweep a three-game series from Port Jefferson and move within one game of clinching a playoff berth.Â
When Whaler relief pitcher T.J. Arreguin induced the first Royal batter to pop out to Tyler Gilbride at second, a feel-good buzz went through the Pierson crowd on the third base side. That turned out to be the emotional high point for the home team when moments later a three-base error, a pitching change, a walk, a balk and a passed ball left Pierson down 6-5, merriment turned to sudden befuddlement and disbelief.
Coming up in the home half the first, two Whalers went down, but Joey Dowling gave the faithful something to cheer about by lining a single to center. Dane Riva stepped in, worked the count and drilled a ball down the third base line that looked destined for left field. Instead, the ball hit the bag and caromed up generously to the Royals third baseman, who fired across the infield to get Riva by a step for the last out.
The late-inning loss leaves Pierson at 8-4 in League VIII play and 8-6 overall, two wins short a post-season berth in the Suffolk County Class C tournament. The win clinched a spot for the Royals, who at 10-5 are the Whalers’ likely first-round opponent.
The rain Tuesday washed away the opener of a three-game set with 10-2 Southold, the revised schedule calling for the Whalers to host the Clippers yesterday and then travel there Thursday and Friday. Next Tuesday, Pierson has Smithtown Christian coming into the park Tuesday and Friday for a pair of 4:30 p.m. starts, the Whalers traveling to the Crusaders Wednesday. Those six games conclude the varsity regular season.
A Win Away
The Whalers went to play the Royals a roundabout way last Wednesday, an accident on 27 East sending them into Riverhead and getting them to the field 40 minutes late. A 4-3 Pierson win in the series opener the day before shortened the trip a bit and put pressure on Port Jeff to prove themselves.
Both teams moved through the first two frames without scoring, the sun starting to set behind center field. Pierson’s Gavin Kudlak drew a walk to open the Whaler third and Kyle McGowin made the score 2-0 by slicing a home run over the 325’ sign on the fence in right center.
Whaler pitcher Casey Crowley made that lead hold up, he and his fielders setting down the Royal batters without a run through the first five innings. In the top of the sixth, with the sun now directly in the batters’ eyes, Pierson added to their lead, a two-out rally making the score 5-0.
Those three runs came courtesy of a hit batsman, Crowley being plunked on the calf on an errant curveball to get the rally started. Kudlak drew another walk to put runners at first and second for McGowin, who doubled to center to drive in Crowley, Kudlak holding up at third. The pressure on the Royals to keep the game close, Ryan Miller doubled to left to bring in Kudlak and McGowin and put Pierson further ahead.
Before the Royals came to bat, the umpires stopped the game for 20 minutes to allow the sun to set. The first batter to step in against Crowley after the delay homered on the first pitch, but that was all the Royals were able to put together against the Pierson senior who struck out eight, walked four and gave up just three hits in pitching his second complete game win in four days.
A Good Game
A lead-off walk, followed by a stolen base, fielder’s choice and sacrifice fly, put Port Jeff up 1-0 in their first at-bat Friday. Pierson tied the score in their half of the inning, Crowley singling, taking second on a wild pitch, staying there on a walk to McGowin and coming in on an errant double-play attempt.
Whaler starter Joe Mascali, pitching through a hamstring strain, breezed through the second but saw two long hits land in the outfield and the Royals take a 2-1 lead in the third. His teammates put him back in the lead, 3-2, a high-bounding Gilbride chopper off the plate bringing in two runs and making the most of a McGowin walk and a Port Jeff error.
The Whalers extended the lead to 4-2 in the fourth when Mark Mahoney walked and Joe Dowling tripled. When the Whaler side was set down, it marked the fourth consecutive inning a Pierson runner was left in scoring position, an easy event to miss because of the score but one noticed along the foul lines and in the dugouts.
The pain of failing to bring those runners in was felt in the fifth, the Royals tying the score on a single, a walk and a hard hit double. After 85 pitches and a gritty effort, Mascali was relieved for the sixth, Arreguin coming in and setting down the Royals one-two-three.
The crispness of that inning sparked the Whaler attack in the bottom of the sixth, Riva and Crowley working out a pair of one-out walks and a Kudlak RBI single giving Pierson a 5-4 lead. But, once again, just as in the home fifth, Whaler runners were left on second and third, allowing the Royals to keep the game close.
When Arreguin retired the first Royal batter in the seventh, all seemed right in the Whalers’ world. The three-base outfield error that followed unnerved the reliever, who sent a pitch halfway up the backstop. That prompted a visit from Pierson coach Sean Crowley, who, in turn, summoned McGowin, from third in hopes of having his “ace” set down the next two Royals hitters for the save.
That was not be, the first Royal batter McGowin faced worked out a walk to put Port Jeff runners at first and third. A walk-off steal of second looked to be of no consequence until McGowin threw to first from the stretch, unaware of the steal, to balk in the tying run.
The Royals then turned to pressure up on the Whalers, a squeeze play seeing the ball bound past Pierson’s catcher as the go-ahead run came in safely, joy turning to a gut-wrenching churn on the Whaler side. McGowin gathered himself on the mound and set down the next two Royals, hoping his teammates could now keep him from a ten-pitch loss.
The throw to nip Riva at first, set off a celebration for the Royals who clinched a playoff berth with their win and left the Whalers to gather at home and consider what could have been. In the quiet there, Coach Crowley complimented his team on their effort and encouraged the Whalers to look for the good in the game.
In talking about the outcome yesterday, Coach Crowley said, “I hope they can now appreciate what they have to do when the pressure gets turned up a notch. We have to focus on every pitch, every situation. Over the years as a coach, I’ve seen kids and teams who don’t take what they’re doing seriously enough. Not this group. If anything, they were too hard on themselves. It’s a tough loss, but we can turn this into a learning experience and, now, with the playoffs starting in two weeks, we already know what it feels like to be in that kind of pressure situation.”