It began in early March when the members of the Chaminade baseball team showed up at Garden City Community Park with snow shovels. It ended with those same Flyers in a dogpile behind the pitcher’s mound at St. John’s Jack Kaiser Stadium, celebrating the inaugural Catholic state championship.
In between, Chaminade put together a truly special season, filled with great pitching and defense, timely hitting and intelligent play. The Flyers – with more than 10 Division I scholarship commits – went 25-2, suffering only a pair of one-run losses.
Chaminade led the Long Island CHSAA from start to finish and beat Kellenberg in a three-game championship series for their 20th Diocesan crown. It capped the season by winning a state semifinal over Buffalo St. Joseph’s Collegiate and the state title game over Iona Prep with one-hit shutouts in each.
“It’s the best team I’ve ever had,” said Chaminade coach Mike Pienkos, in his 39th year with the program. “We had it all: great defense, great starting pitching and, though we didn’t knock the walls down with our bats, plenty of hitting when it mattered most.
“They arrived with a lot of hype, but they lived up to that hype.”
Perhaps the biggest question around the Flyers as they embarked on the 2022 season had to do with appetite. They’d won the last two Long Island Catholic titles that were played, in 2019 and 2021, and returned most of the key players from that ’21 team. But was this collection of players – many with their futures set – hungry enough to win it all again?
“If anybody thought we were going to coast on talent or go in with a ‘been-there-done-that’ [attitude], all they needed to see was us with the shovels in March – we couldn’t wait to start hitting and pitching,” Chaminade ace lefthander John Downing said. “We might have been the most-talented team, but we were also the hungriest. While other teams were thinking about winning Long Island, we had a chance to be the first state champions and that gave plenty of motivation.”
Downing provided the final cadence on an exceptional pitching season for the Flyers when he fielded the last batted ball behind the mound and threw to first for the final out of a 3-0 win over Iona Prep in the state title game. The Chaminade pitching staff – with a rotation of Seton Hall-bound Downing and righties JJ Gatti (Dayton) and Andrew Heiderstadt (SUNY Maritime) – threw 13 shutouts, posted an aggregate 0.74 ERA across 181 innings and gave up just 99 hits while striking out 251. It posted 13 shutouts.
Downing went 9-1 in 11 starts with an 0.41 ERA, Gatti was 7-1 with a save and an 0.51 ERA and Heiderstadt was 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA.
The offense held up its end with standout seasons from centerfielder Nick Ungania and shortstop Nolan Nawrocki. Binghamton commit Ungania might have been under-the-radar a year ago but broke out to hit .418 with 30 runs scored and 32 stolen bases to become the Long Island CHSAA Player of the Year. The Michigan-bound Nawrocki hit .378 with 12 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs, including driving in the winning runs in both state tournament games.
“I knew that Nick had this season in him,” Nawrocki said. “We’ve all seen it coming. What a stud.”
And the glue for it all was the defense. Around the infield the Flyers had third baseman Mike Sweeney, Nawrocki, second baseman Brady Steinert and first baseman Mike Dieguez. All of them were recruited to Division I schools to play shortstop. With Ungania in center and catcher Brian Heckleman, Chaminade didn’t beat itself.
No team makes it through a season without dealing with some adversity. Opening Day starters Michael Cervoni (third base) and Vincent Roman (leftfield) were felled by back and foot injuries respectively. Pienkos was able to reach into a deep roster, find Evan Baschnagel and Aiden Katzman for corner outfield spots and shuffle others to fill holes.
“To have a season like this, guys have to come up big when called on,” Pienkos said. “Our guys did and that’s what made us a state champion.”
ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
CHSAA Long Island Quarterfinal
Def. St. John the Baptist, 1-0
CHSAA Long Island Semifinal
Def. St. Anthony’s, 11-0
CHSAA Long Island Championship Series (Won 2-1)
Lost to Kellenberg, 4-3
Def. Kellenberg, 8-1
Def. Kellenberg, 5-1
CHSAA State Semifinal
Def. Buffalo St. Joseph’s Collegiate, 1-0 (8 inn.)
CHSAA State Championship
Def. Iona Prep, 3-0