Jimmy Joyce thought he had hit a walk-off home run, But his two-out blast in the top of the ninth inning last Saturday only put Wantagh in position to win the state Class A baseball title.
“I wasn’t really focused on anything else but the at-bat,” said Joyce, Newsday’s Athlete of the Week, whose Warriors retired Williamsville East in the bottom of the ninth (high school games are seven innings) to seal a 6-5 comeback victory.
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“I guess once I hit it, I forgot we had to play the field again. I had just hit a home run in extra innings. It was the only thing going through my mind.”
Up 2-and-0 in the count, the junior was able to pick his pitch and take a hard swing. He got his pitch — a flat fastball down the middle, he said — turned on it and sent it over the leftfield fence.
Joyce had an opportunity to give his team the lead in the seventh. He singled, stole second and advanced to third when Anthony Fontana grounded to short. The shortstop attempted to nab Joyce at third, but the throw hit Joyce and bounced toward the fence, so he broke for home.
He dove head first, but was ruled out on the bang-bang play. While the call was disappointing, Joyce knew that it wouldn’t define his team’s season.
“In my head, that wasn’t the way it was supposed to end,” he said. “I’ve been playing with these guys since I was 12. That’s not supposed to happen.”
While Wantagh will walk away from the weekend tournament with lasting images of Joyce’s winning solo homer, Joyce was also center stage earlier that day against Queensbury in the semifinal.
Joyce overpowered the previously undefeated team on the mound, allowing just one hit and one unearned run in a 2-1 win. He kept hitters off balance with his knuckle curve and peppered the zone with his fastball, stifling the Queensbury bats.
He cruised through the first three innings but admitted fatigue set in by the fourth. He relied more on location than overpowering stuff from there.
“He did what he did all year, except he just showed everyone in two games,” Wantagh coach Keith Sachs said. “He just did what we see over the course of a season. He showcased it in two games.”
Joyce has been a stalwart in the Wantagh lineup and rotation this season. He led Nassau with nine wins and hit .343 with three home runs, six doubles, four triples and 30 RBIs.
What he didn’t do during the season was think he hit a walk-off homer in the top of an inning. But that’s just a comedic blip during what was a memorable weekend for the Warriors.