This was the battle of Brandon. Hard-throwing Brandon Bonomo of Half Hollow Hills East and his electric 89-mph fastball against Connetquot cleanup hitter Brandon Morse, one of Long Island's true power hitters.
The first meeting was a four-pitch walk in the first inning. The second confrontation came an inning later in a moment that held much more significance.
Morse stepped to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded and Connetquot ahead by two runs. Bonomo, who had just picked up a strikeout, needed a big out to escape the jam and keep the game close.
But Morse had other ideas. He broke the game open when he launched a 1-and-0 fastball to straightaway centerfield for a 400-foot grand slam, capping a five-run inning and propelling top-seeded Connetquot to an 11-3 win over 10th-seeded Hills East on Thursday in a Suffolk Class AA quarterfinal in Bohemia.
"He throws really hard and I thought fastball on that pitch,'' said Morse, who went 2-for-2 with two walks. "It really felt great off the bat.''
Connetquot (19-2) will host fourth-seeded Smithtown East at noon on Saturday in Game 1 of the best-of-three semifinals.
Connetquot took a 1-0 lead in the first. Marc Wangenstein walked, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Christian Nissen and a wild pitch, and scored on Aaron Gagliano's two-out infield hit.
"Gagliano has had a tremendous year hitting,'' Connetquot coach Bob Ambrosini said. "He's been clutch all season. And when he doesn't drive it into the outfield, he's fast enough to beat out infield hits.''
Bonomo walked the bases loaded in the second before Nissen lined a one-out RBI single to make it 2-0 and set the stage for Morse. "I don't think he came out aggressive,'' Ambrosini said of Bonomo. "He was struggling with his breaking ball and location. I was surprised he didn't come right at us.''
Bonomo, who entered with a 6-0 record and a sub-1.00 ERA, allowed four earned runs in the fourth. He walked three batters around Dave Brehm's RBI triple and Cole Clark's RBI single.
Hills East (14-8) scored an unearned run in the third and added single runs in the fifth and sixth against Connetquot starter Travis Bruinsma. He scattered four hits and struck out nine in a complete-game effort for his eighth win.
Wangenstein led off the sixth with his fifth homer to make it 11-3, and it was left to Bruinsma to finish. He struck out six and allowed two hits through four innings, but in the fifth, he walked the bases loaded with one out before escaping.
"I lost the zone for a little bit but my catcher [Stalem Baez] came out and settled things down,'' he said. "And then it was back to pounding the zone.''
He struck out the final two hitters swinging. "It felt good to finish strong," he said. "But it was the offense that really got us going and took the pressure off.''
Smithtown East 8, Hills West 6: Greg Maitles threw 62/3 innings of relief after Smithtown East fell behind 6-0 in the first inning and Ryan Kuskowski scored the tiebreaking run on John Marti's groundout in the bottom of the sixth for Smithtown East (19-2) in a Suffolk AA quarterfinal. Matt Milne went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs.