The day began with 23 members of the Connetquot baseball team sitting in the first two rows at a funeral Mass at St. John Nepomucene Church in Bohemia.
They were there to pay their respects to Walter Hengge, teammate John Hengge's father, who died unexpectedly Saturday about an hour after Connetquot beat Ward Melville in the first game of the Suffolk Class AA finals.
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They sat quietly and focused on the tributes to Walter Hengge that unfurled in front of them. Words about love, life and family filled the air. Tears were shed and the close-knit friends were overcome with emotion.
When the funeral was over, the team headed to lunch and teammate Chris Ryan's house for batting practice. Then they went out and kept their promise to 'Win for Walt.' ''
Travis Bruinsma threw a three-hit shutout as the top-seeded Thunderbirds beat second-seeded Ward Melville, 6-0, in Game 3 of the series to claim the Suffolk Class AA championship.
A crowd of more than 1,300 at Connetquot overflowed the bleachers and along the foul lines to watch the T-Birds (23-4) win their seventh Suffolk crown.
"I promised Johnny before the game that every pitch would be for his dad," said Bruinsma (11-2). "I wanted to win more than anything."
Bruinsma, who set a school record for wins, struck out six, walked two and threw 19 first-pitch strikes to 25 batters. Ward Melville (22-4) never had a runner reach third base.
"It was a very tough week and I told my wife how much I really wanted this one for my players," Connetquot coach Bob Ambrosini said. "Our community has been through a rough week and our boys had to overcome the most difficult adversity -- losing someone's dad."
Connetquot, which lost Game 2 on Wednesday, 4-3, on Dom Lamonica's walk-off home run, set the tone in the first inning Thursday. Leadoff man Marc Wangenstein drilled a single to center and moved to second on Christian Nissen's sacrifice bunt. Dave Brehm singled Wangenstein to third and stole second before Brandon Morse lined a two-run double for a 2-0 lead.
"We're a super-close group of friends," Morse said. "We're not just a team, we're a family. We do everything together. And it's everyone, believe me. There's no one on the outside looking in. We all pick each other up and we all love each other. This was very personal for us."
The T-Birds knocked Ward Melville sophomore righthander Ben Brown out of the game in the third with five straight one-out singles by Brehm, Morse, Aaron Gagliano, Zach White and Cole Clark. Stalem Baez's sacrifice fly made it 5-0.
"We've all been crying and just leaning on each other," Morse said. "It's been awful, but it's good to have such close friends."
When Clark caught a pop-up for the final out, the celebration was on. For a few moments, the pain was temporarily lessened.
"Coach Ambro has been so emotional," Morse said. "He's such a great motivator, it's insane. We might hate him at practice at times because he's so tough, but we all love him because he's the best."
Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci shared a moment with John Hengge afterward. Hengge, who had pitched Game 2, thanked Petrucci for his team's sportsmanship after the Patriots' win in that game, when Ward Melville's players took turns hugging Hengge.
"I'm glad they won for that kid," Petrucci said through tears. "They outplayed us today and the gods of baseball were looking down on them.''
"My dad is smiling somewhere in heaven," Hengge said. "This one's for you, Dad."