Things got off to a good start for the Eastport South Manor baseball team at Ward Melville in the Class AA playoff opener on Tuesday, but, as they say: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Patriots rallied for seven runs in the bottom of the fourth and eventually won, 9-4, handing the Sharks their first loss in the double-elimination playoffs.
ESM, the 14th seed in the Class AA playoffs, will drop down to the loser’s bracket and play at sixth-seeded Smithtown West on Wednesday, in what is an elimination game for both teams. Ward Melville, the defending Long Island Champion, will host Patchogue/Medford, the 11th seed, which easily defeated Smithtown West, 14-3, on Tuesday.
The Sharks took a 2-0 lead on Tuesday at Ward Melville in the first inning. After senior Brandon Martins singled to right field, senior Mike Shine walked to put runners on first and second with one out. Then, senior Mat Annunziata, in his first place appearance of the spring, coming back from a knee injury, mashed a fly ball over the left fielder’s head for a double, scoring Martins for the first run of the game. Senior Kory Cassara then singled to center field to bring in Shine for the second run of the inning.
Ward Melville tied the game in the bottom of the second inning, but the Sharks responded in the top of the third. With runners on first and third and one out, senior Mike Burghardt hit a high fly ball behind third base down the left field line. Ward Melville defenders tried to make a play on the ball, but it dropped in fair territory, and Shine was able to score to give ESM a 3-2 lead.
Then, the flood gates opened for Ward Melville in the bottom of the fourth.
With the game already tied, 3-3, and one out, ESM head coach Matt Salmon decided to replace starting pitcher Stephen Arntsen on the mound with senior Tristan Griffith. But Griffith had command issues and wound up allowing three bases-loaded walks and a few wild pitches and the Patriots had a commanding 9-3 lead by the time everything was said and done.
Annunziata had another RBI base hit in the top of the seventh but it was all for naught. He finished his first game since last summer with two hits, including the double and two RBIs. Martins had two hits and Shine scored twice for the Sharks.
Salmon said that he liked his team’s energy in the beginning of the game but thought Arntsen was a little hyped up.
“He doesn’t normally throw that many balls,” he said. “That’s a good team, Ward Melville. You let a team like that hang around, they’re going to capitalize when they can and they did. We made some key mistakes at important times and that was the difference.”