While cruising to the League IX regular season title with a 19-1 record, the Pierson baseball team enjoyed wide margins of victory in nearly every game.
That trend did not continue in the opening round of the Class C playoffs at Mashashimuet Park on Monday.
The Whalers, the top seed, grinded out a 2-1 victory over second seed Southold at home to advance to the championship game for the second consecutive year, but it was nowhere near as easy as three previous wins over the Settlers during the regular season. Pierson, a team that routinely scored more than 10 runs per game and also had undefeated lefty ace Colman Vila on the hill that day, held only a slim 2-0 lead heading into the top of the sixth inning.
And rather than timely hitting or lockdown pitching, it was a perfectly executed play on defense that preserved the lead and, ultimately, the win for the Whalers.
In the top of the sixth, Southold had runners on first and second with one out when Alex Poliwoda hit a line drive to center field. Shane Johnson scored from second, but teammate Anthony Fedele was thrown out at the plate to preserve Pierson’s lead. Whalers centerfielder Jack Fitzpatrick picked up the ball, made a perfect throw to cut-off man Forrest Loesch, who just as quickly made a perfect throw to catcher Aaron Schianvoni, who applied the tag for the out.
After the game, Pierson head coach Jon Tortorella said those three players executed the play perfectly, explaining that it is something the team works on constantly in practice. That hard work paid off, and at the most crucial point in the game as well.
“They did every single thing right,” Tortorella said. “And that was the game.”
Vila took care of the rest, striking out the side in the final inning, sending two batters back to the dugout on called third strikes. He earned his eighth win of the season, striking out 16 batters and allowing three hits.
Pierson got on the board in the bottom of the second inning when Nick Kruel drove in Tim Markowski with a single. Markowski had reached base on a walk and stole second. Pierson added its second run in the fifth when Southold’s third baseman mishandled a slow moving infield chopper hit by Forrest Loesch with two outs. Fitzpatrick, who had reached base with a walk and had advanced to third, scored on the play.
Southold moved into the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination tournament, and will face third seed Port Jefferson—which it beat in the first game on Friday—on Thursday in Southold. The loser of that game will be eliminated, and the winner will play Pierson back at Mashashimuet Park on Saturday at 11 a.m.
If the Whalers win that game, they will claim their second straight Suffolk County Class C championship. A loss, because it would be their first of the playoffs, would result in another chance for the Whalers to win the title on Tuesday in Sag Harbor at 4 p.m.
Check www.27east.com for the latest playoff updates.
The victory was marred by some chippy play in the late innings. Whaler John Chisholm was ejected in the bottom of the sixth after running into Southold pitcher Rob Mahoney along the first-base line. Chisholm had popped up a pitch in that area and was running out the play to first when he collided with Mahoney, a move that the umpire apparently did not consider to be an accident. Some trash talking was going on between the players in the earlier half of the inning. Tortorella had a prolonged post-game chat with his team in the outfield, and alluded to the incident afterwards.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we operated today,” he said. “I think we let our emotions get the better of us and didn’t act the way Pierson baseball players should be acting.”
Still, Tortorella was happy that his team got the win and advanced to the championship game on Saturday. He also gave credit to Southold for giving his team a run for its money.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “They came to play today.”