The Nassau Class A championship between Clarke and Division is just a three-game series, so the last thing either team wanted was to stumble right away. Yet that’s exactly what Clarke did in falling into an early four-run hole. Then the Rams found themselves and that was something to see.
Clarke relievers quieted the Dragons’ bats and the Rams offense came alive to score 11 runs spanning the third, fourth and fifth innings to post a 13-6 victory in Game 1 at SUNY-Old Westbury.
Chris Giardino and Nick Campagnuolo both had two-run singles in a six-run fourth and Pavlos Papoutsakis had a two-run single in a four-run fifth as the Rams put up a scoring line that looked like a phone number. And reliever Brian Sullivan pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings to hold Division down.
Clarke (24-2-1) had won 16 of its last 17 and now stands one win away from capturing its seventh county title and first since 2013.
“When adversity comes to you, you can’t just sit back and let it punch you in the face. You have to go at it and attack it,” Sullivan said. “If you let it hit you in the face once, you’re going to keep getting knocked down and we haven’t been a team like that.
“We had something to prove: that we are the better team,” he added. “That’s all there is.”
Division (20-4) looked early on like it might roll to its 10th straight win. Nick Giovanakis drove in a run in the first and the Dragons put up a five-spot in the top of the third for a 6-2 lead. Joe Natale’s run-scoring single was a key hit in the rally, but Clarke helped it along by issuing two walks and a hit-by-pitch and committing a pair of errors.
“We weren’t making the plays, but that’s not who we are,” Rams coach Tom Abruscato said. “We started putting together good at-bats and came back against a very good team.”
In both of Clarke’s big innings, it took advantage of Division fielding miscues. Campagnuolo’s bases-loaded single scored two to cut the margin to 6-4. Tyler Cox followed with an RBI single to make it a one-run game. Giardino’s two-run rope to center put Clarke up for good at 7-6.
Sullivan was summoned to pitch with two on and two out in the fourth and got a foul popup to end the threat. He retired the side in order in the fifth, but got himself into a bases-loaded jam in the sixth. After Abruscato visited the mound, he got out of that, too.
“He’s very level-headed and even-keeled,” Abruscato said of Sullivan. “When he’s in a tough spot, he treats it like every other spot — that’s how you have to be.”
After reliever Joe Palacio gloved a comebacker and threw to first for the final out, the Rams had a muted celebration down the first base line. There is, after all, still work to do.
“We just got off a little slow in the beginning,” Giardino said. “We had to pick it up and play like we had all season. At the end of the game we were more the team we’ve been.”