Mike Vitale wanted to throw something off-speed, but Sachem North catcher Brendan Garry had a different idea. He called for an inside fastball.
The Flaming Arrows were clinging to a one-run lead and were a strike away from their first berth in the Suffolk Class AA final since 1987. There were two outs and a 2-and-2 count on Anthony Annunziata, Eastport-South Manor's All-County second baseman, who brought a .464 average into Monday's game. The tying run, Ryan McCormick, inched off third base.
Vitale delivered the inside fastball and Annunziata -- who'd already laced a single, walked and lined to deep rightfield -- was caught looking at strike three as visiting Sachem North held on for a 3-2 win in the Class AA winners'-bracket final.
The righthander's two-seam fastball started out at the lefthanded-hitting Annunziata's hip and caught the black, a true pitcher's pitch. Said Garry, "I thought he was looking off-speed and I wanted a fastball on his hands. I didn't want him to get any extension on his swing.''
With two outs, runners on first and third and Sachem North leading 3-0, Vitale struck out McCormick on a changeup in the dirt for what appeared to be the game-ending out, but with the Flaming Arrows ready to celebrate, Garry's throw to first sailed into rightfield. That allowed a run to score and put runners on second and third. A wild pitch made it 3-2 and sent McCormick to third.
"We've been so close over the years and come up just short, and I was thinking, 'Oh, not again,' " Sachem North coach Tom Gambino said. "They had a stud up at bat and we just let a three-run lead get away. But Vitale put that pitch right under his hands and painted the black -- great pitch."
"We had the right guy at bat," Eastport-South Manor coach Todd Skala said. "He's been clutch all season. Their pitcher was very tough and kept us off balance all game."
Through the first four innings, it was all about Vitale and Eastport-South Manor starter Brandon O'Sullivan. Vitale allowed three hits and a walk and O'Sullivan gave up one hit and one walk. The first four innings took only 42 minutes.
"Vitale stays low in the zone and mixes his pitches well," Garry said. "He stayed ahead of the hitters and we played great defense."
Mike Scarlato opened the top of the fifth with a walk and moved to second on Steve Kowalski's sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Alec Sole singled to send Scarlato to third. Justin Carlo, Garry and Nick Teta followed with RBI singles for a 3-0 lead.
"Their pitcher was mixing it up well and he was sneaky fast," Garry said. "I just sat on a curveball there."
It was all the unflappable and pitch-efficient Vitale (8-1) would need. He threw 86 pitches, 62 for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of 29 batters.
"I felt I had command of all of my pitches," he said. "They have a great hitting team and I knew I had to have excellent location."
He did. Vitale mixed a sweet changeup with a tight curveball to allow six hits and two walks, strike out six and keep the big swingers from Eastport-South Manor off balance. Even the two unearned runs in the seventh didn't rattle him. Said Gambino, "He's one confident kid."