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Island Trees baseball working its magic
Island Trees finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak and were looking strong as they once again headed into the postseason.
But they faced an uphill battle as the No. 15 seed with a single-elimination game against Floral Park Monday before having to play with its back up against the wall Tuesday as well.
Consider the hill climbed, as Island Trees won both single-elimination games against No. 10 Floral Park, 4-3, in extra innings and scratched and clawed to get past the No. 1 seed Wantagh, 2-0, in a thrilling game that was decided in the seventh inning.
Freshman Mike Iacobellis led off the top of the seventh against Wantagh with a double and scored the go-ahead run on a suicide squeeze that was executed perfectly by sophomore Anthony Raucci. Louis Mele added an insurance run with a solo blast, and Louis Belleau shut down Wantagh in the bottom of the seventh to finish a shutout in which he walked none and allowed only three hits.
There was a time this season when it looked like Island Trees, a perennial playoff team, would end up out of the postseason mix. After losing a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth to drop its sixth straight league game on April 25, Island Trees was 4-7 and in trouble.
“We had a practice after that game, and I didn’t think this was possible,” head coach Joe D’Auria said. “We talked about trying to be a phoenix rising from the ashes.”
Island Trees hasn’t lost since and continues to look like a team that is poised to rise above the rest in Nassau. The Bulldogs themselves were knocked off in the county finals in 2012 by No. 16 Plainedge, so they have a recent firsthand experience of how to get it done.
“It’s been timely hitting and defense,” D’Auria said. “At times we would be missing one or both, but it seems like the last two or three weeks everything has been clicking for us. I think when we’re in a tight game we feel like we’re going to win it.”
The win against Floral Park was thrilling but only a minor upset – it was a three-game sweep of Floral Park that got Island Trees rolling in the regular season. But the win against a Wantagh team that was considered the best on Long Island was as big as any.
“The confidence is growing,” D’Auria said. “When you win close games, especially playoff games – we’ve been down before in playoff games and we always feel like there’s a 10th man playing with us – it’s ‘Island Trees magic,’ and these kids are starting to buy into that.”
Island Trees looks to keep the magic rolling as it moves into the quarterfinals against No. 2 seed South Side. That best-of-three series begins Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at South Side.