Derek Yalon got a chance he never anticipated and made the most of it.
Connetquot’s senior righthander began Monday with no expectation that he’d stand on a pitcher's mound that day, however that's exactly where he was when it ended. With two on and two out in the seventh inning against Ward Melville, he induced a game-ending groundout to preserve the host Thunderbirds’ 5-4 victory in Game 2 of the Suffolk Class AA championship series.
“We had Joe Savino starting for us today so I expected a complete-game shutout,” Yalon said. “I never thought I’d pitch. When they ended up calling my name, it was exciting. I like a big situation.”
None is bigger than the one facing the teams Tuesday when the series shifts to Ward Melville for the decisive Game 3. Connetquot (20-6) is seeking its eighth county title and Ward Melville (21-7) its second; the winner will face defending state champion Massapequa on Saturday in Game 1 of the Long Island championship.
The Patriots took advantage of two of miscues to push across three runs in the top of the first inning, but couldn’t hold the lead against the Thunderbirds’ seven-hit attack. Connetquot's Matt Brown-Eiring had a sacrifice fly in a two-run first and his double to the gap in right-centerfield was the key hit in a three-run third inning. It scored Alex Ungar from first with the go-ahead run and Joe Zimmerman’s run-scoring groundout made it 5-3.
Savino made sure Ward Melville added nothing to its early lead. He didn’t allow a hit after the first and he completed five innings with five strikeouts and no earned runs allowed. But he had to warmup longer than usual because the game started late and Savino grew fatigued “after the high-leverage early innings,” Connetquot coach Rob Burger said.
“I knew we were going to battle back after falling behind,” Savino said. “That’s the character of this team.”
“When we get hit with adversity, we come back with a knockout punch,” Brown-Eiring said. “Everyone does their job with the bats.”
The Patriots mounted threats in the sixth and seventh innings. Two errors put a pair on in the sixth but Yalon retired the next three on a sacrifice bunt and a pair of strikeouts. With two outs in the seventh, Brady Doran doubled, Matt Maurer walked and Ethan Farino reached on an error that allowed Doran to score to make it 5-4. Yalon again recovered by getting the game-ending ground ball.
“They hit and we didn’t,” Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci said. “It was as simple as that.”
Connetquot sees itself as an underdog for Game 3 and expects the Patriots to pitch Max Nielsen, who struck out 18 in his previous postseason outing. Petrucci said he had not committed to using him. Burger said the Thunderbirds “will pitch everyone” on Tuesday. It has the option of bringing back Matt Goodis, who threw 70-80 pitches in Saturday’s 1-0 Game 1 loss.
“We get a Game 3,” Savino said. “It’s all this team could ask for. Now we have to make the most of it.”