The Clarke baseball tightrope act goes on.
The fourth-seeded Rams ended up on that high wire when it stumbled out of the gates on Tuesday and dropped its Nassau Class A tournament opener to feisty No. 13 Mepham. In the double-elimination format, that meant that Clarke would need to win four straight elimination games to reach a semifinal series.
It’s halfway there after posting a five-inning run-ruled 12-2 victory over No. 5 Carey on Saturday in the completion of a game suspended by Friday’s torrential rains.
Clarke (17-4-1) advances to Sunday’s quarterfinal round to meet the Mepham squad that also upset Carey. The first pitch is at 11 a.m. and the Rams are host as the better-seeded team. Should Clarke win that game, the teams will play a second game immediately after to determine whether the Rams or Pirates will advance.
“We made too many mental mistakes against Mepham the first time, but now we’ve got two wins under our belts,” Nick Giardino said. “Mepham’s a great team, but we’ll be ready. We need to bounce back.”
After Clarke fell off its perch as the top-seeded team it has landed on its feet better than a cat. Rams coach Tom Abruscato orchestrated his pitchers masterfully while up against state-mandated pitch-count rules — he replaced pitcher Nick Berasti with Josh Deluccia with a full count on a batter — so that Clarke has every pitcher on its staff available to go in the potential doubleheader.
Berasti said he had no idea why Abruscato came to the mound when he did, “but then he told me If I’m out right there I can pitch Sunday.”
“[Berasti] was at his number,” Abruscato said, referring to the 40-pitch limit that would not require a day off. “The game’s score and circumstances gave us a chance to have him [Sunday]. We were prepared to have him keep pitching if it had gotten close.”
Ah yes, the score and circumstances. Like Clarke, Carey spent the season considered a contender. However the Seahawks looked spent when they fell back 7-2 on Friday and trailed 11-2 in the fourth inning Saturday when Abruscato decided to keep Berasti available.
Liam Fonal’s two-run single was the only hit in a seven-run first inning and Giardino’s two-run single the only hit in a four-run third inning. Berasti dashed home on a throwing error in the fourth for the 10-run lead that allowed the Rams to wrap the game after five innings.
The Rams’ beat Carey as much as the Seahawks beat themselves. Clarke scored a dozen runs on three hits, eight walks, four errors and two hit by pitches. Its runners were alertly taking an extra base at every opportunity.
“We picked the wrong time to not throw strikes and not field the ball,” Seahawks coach Doug Robins said.
After the Friday storm pushed Friday’s games into Saturday, some athletic directors and coaches believed that the four quarterfinal rounds would be played Sunday and Monday (when no Class A games are scheduled). They learned about the potential Sunday doubleheaders on Friday night.
“I can’t say that decision changed our [pitching] strategy,” Abruscato said. “But we understood what things could look like coming in.”