Ominous skies and the threat of an early exit hung over Sachem North's title hopes before Friday's Suffolk Class AA elimination baseball game with Longwood.
The top-seeded Flaming Arrows were coming off a heart wrenching, extra-inning loss to No. 8 West Islip on Thursday that sent them to the losers' bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
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"We're a senior-laden team and I told them you don't want to be home on the couch come Monday," Sachem North skipper Tom Gambino said. "We were coming off a difficult loss and needed to rebound right away so the season doesn't end."
Junior righty Nick Morena knows a lot about pitching in a pressure-packed situation. He earned the win in the League II title-clincher over Connetquot.
Morena was spot-on again Friday as he fired a four-hitter, struck out seven and walked one as Sachem North eliminated Longwood, 3-1, to advance and host Monday's fourth-round game against No. 6 Smithtown West.
"I was working with a quick pace, which I like," said Morena, who improved to 6-1. "I had great rhythm and was working ahead of hitters."
Morena was staked to a 1-0 first-inning lead when leadoff hitter Steven Foster singled, moved to second on a groundout and scored on a two-out single from John Weinhofer.
"That was a clutch hit and put us on top early," Foster said. "It took all the pressure off."
Sachem North (19-4) added two runs in the third. Rob Sciarrotta doubled off the 365-foot sign in left-center and scored on Tyler Patane's opposite-field double. Patane scored on an infield error to make it 3-0.
"This was a nice bounce-back win," Gambino said.
West Islip beat Sachem North, 12-8, in 10 innings in a game that was suspended and continued over two days.
"The difference between winning and losing in every playoff game is a matter of who makes the plays and who doesn't," Foster said. "Today we made all the plays and got the big hits and we move on after beating a great team that a lot of people thought could win the county crown."