This is what redemption looks like in baseball: An 0-and-2 count, a tie score in the top of the eighth, a season on the line, and Mike Smith stroking a two-run home run to left-center.
He got mobbed when he touched home plate, and when he broke from the scrum, he let out a guttural scream that seemed to erase a season full of frustration.
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"I wasn't going to let them down again," the Commack first baseman said. "I knew I had to do something. I wasn't going to let this team go home early. I wasn't going to do it."
Commack (11-8, 10-8) defeated League I champion Ward Melville, 7-4, in eight innings Thursday at Baseball Heaven. Once a favorite, the Cougars were forced to beat the Patriots in the regular-season finale to make the playoffs. They also most likely prevented the Patriots from getting the No. 1 seed.
Smith, whose homer produced a 5-3 lead, spent the season struggling to knock in runs. Commack averaged only 1.3 runs in its eight losses, including a 6-2 loss to Ward Melville on Tuesday.
And wait, there's more: After getting hit hard in an 11-4 loss to Ward Melville on Monday, Jesse Kilmetis came on in relief in the third inning yesterday and earned the win. He allowed two hits in six innings and shut out the Patriots until the eighth.
"Getting a chance to redeem myself and do well in this game was huge for me," Kilmetis said. "Today was a do-or-die game. I knew I had to pitch my best and be lights out if I could."
Ward Melville (15-4, 14-4) took a 3-1 lead before Jesse Berardi's two-run blast tied it in the third. Kilmetis came on with a runner on second in the bottom of the third and stranded him on third.
"We gave it all we had," Berardi said. "This prepares us a lot. We know what we're facing and we know we can overcome the best."
Berardi had four RBIs and two hits, and was routinely spectacular at shortstop. His two-run double in the eighth put the game out of reach.
"It was the whole team," Smith said. "With the energy we had . . . I knew this wasn't it. I knew this wasn't going to be it."
This is what redemption looks like in baseball: The chance to play another day.