Sometimes winning is all about hustle.
In a baseball game in which hits were few and the starting pitching dominant, it was an all-out hustle play that made the difference.
Ward Melville’s Max Nielsen and Floyd’s A.J. Verga, both lefthanders, dazzled as they battled through seven scoreless innings before leaving the outcome to the bullpens. Nielsen allowed three hits and struck out 14. Verga allowed one hit and struck out five.
But in the ninth inning it was a simple backup play by second baseman Matt Maurer that set up Ward Melville’s 3-0 win in 10 innings Monday as a steady drizzle fell during a Suffolk I contest at the Moriches Sports Complex.
Floyd’s Tommy Verga led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Vance Carlo dropped a neat bunt on winning reliever Jack Ruffner, who grabbed the slick ball and overthrew first base. Verga, representing the winning run, continued to third where coach Keith Kobasiuk waved him home.
“I thought we needed to be aggressive and go for it,” Kobasiuk said. “Their guy got the ball down the rightfield line, fell, and got up to make the perfect throw home to nail Verga.”
Maurer, guarding against an overthrow given the conditions, was backing up first and chased down the ball. He slid into the ball to stop his momentum, and turned and fired home where catcher Anthony Pascale made the tag to keep the game scoreless.
“Game over right there if they score,” Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci said. “No one out-hustles Matt Maurer. Maybe some outhit him. Maybe some run faster. But no one plays the game harder. That gave us life.”
The Patriots (8-1, 7-1) weren't out of trouble yet. The Colonials (5-6, 4-6) loaded the bases with two outs before A.J. Verga drilled a line drive to rightfield. Ward Melville assistant coach Kyle Brennan had just repositioned Matt Franco 20-25 feet closer to the rightfield line, and he made a running, sliding catch.
“It was so wet, and I slipped,” said Franco, in his first year playing the outfield. “But I had a good enough jump to get there.”
Ward Melville used that momentum to score three runs in the 10th. Justice Spencer and Brady Doran walked before Maurer was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Ethan Farino singled to left for the first run of the game. Pascale was hit by a pitch for an RBI and Nielsen walked to force in the third run.
“We turned a loss into a win because we hustle,” Petrucci said. “Verga pitched a great game as did Max.”
Pascale, who also picked a runner off first in the bottom of eighth, ended the game in the 10th when he hustled after a wild pitch and threw out a runner trying to advance to third.
“You don’t run on Pascale,” said Nielsen, who struck out eight of his first 10 batters. “He makes it so much easier for our pitchers.”