Smithtown East's Ryan Pennisi (8) strokes a solo homer to...

Smithtown East's Ryan Pennisi (8) strokes a solo homer to centerfield against Half Hollow Hills East during the sixth inning on Monday, April 29, 2019. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

What looks good on the outside doesn’t always feel good on the inside. Such was the case for the Smithtown East baseball team entering Monday’s game against visiting Half Hollow Hills East. The Bulls were atop League III but were experiencing a drought of clutch hits. Twice in the previous week they’d put all kinds of traffic on the bases, only to get shut out by Newfield.

In the sixth inning of a taut pitchers’ duel, Smithtown East’s Ryan Pennisi finally ended that drought with a tying solo homer. Six batters later, Nick Harvey’s two-run single through the middle helped the Bulls earn a 3-2 win.

“We finally broke through with Nick’s hit. He didn’t hit it that hard, but it found a hole, and maybe that’s the start of something for us,” Bulls coach Ken Klee said. “We’ve left so many men on base that it’s totally in our heads. It’s the elephant in the room. The games we lost last week were 2-0, 1-0, and we had guys on base all game . . . Nick’s hit brings a big sigh of relief.”

Smithtown East (9-3, 8-2) had stranded nine runners in five innings and had gone 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.

“We haven’t been scoring a lot, so the pressure feels more every time we don’t get the hit with runners on,” Harvey said. “You hope a hit like this one knocks something loose for us so we can relax again in those situations.”

Until the three-run sixth, pitching-rich Smithtown East appeared to be on the brink of wasting the combined efforts of righthanded starter Doug Goodwin and lefthanded reliever Michael Storms, who came on during the fifth.

The outburst put the Bulls up 3-1, but the Thunderbirds (8-6, 7-6) — who had taken a 1-0 lead on Nick Gavilla’s RBI single in the third — cut it to 3-2 in the seventh on Chris McLaughlin’s pinch-hit RBI single.

Storms shut it down by getting a game-ending 6-4-3 double play. “I like the big situations,” he said.

Klee called Pennisi’s homer “our best at-bat of the season.” He fouled off four pitches before hitting a full-count fastball over the 340-foot sign in left-centerfield. “I was just looking for a solid hit to help get us even,” Pennisi said of his first homer. “It felt good off the bat and then I saw their centerfielder [wouldn’t catch it].”

Klee hopes a win like this will have a lasting impact. “All it should take is one guy to break that seal,” he said, “and then everyone can relax a little bit.”

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