Everything for Commack baseball starts with leadoff man Joey Patane Jr. And there was an added incentive for Patane in Saturday’s championship game – he wanted to hit a home run for Dad.
While his dad, Joe Sr. lay in a hospital bed in Huntington Hospital, Patane set out to fulfill a promise he made to himself to hit a round tripper.
Patane drilled a two-out, two-run home run to snap a 4-4 fourth inning tie and send host Commack to a 6-4 win over Smithtown East in Game 1 of the Suffolk Class AA best-of-three championship series.
“I wanted to hit a line drive up the middle,” Patane said. “It was an 0-1 curveball, and it hung a little inside. I pulled my hands inside the pitch and hit it well.”
Patane’s fourth home run of the season gave Commack a 1-0 series lead heading into Game 2 scheduled for Monday at noon at Smithtown East (16-8). Commack improved to 23-2.
Patane was robbed of a second dinger when Smithtown left fielder Jerry Suppa jumped above the fence to pull back a sixth-inning blast.
“I always want to hit a home run for my Dad,” Patane said. “I just wanted to hit a home run but two would have been good. It was a nice catch.”
Smithtown East opened the scoring with an unearned run in the first inning. Sophomore Luke Ciminiello drilled a single and moved to second on a Chris Goohs single. Ciminiello scored on a two-out, infield error to give the Bulls a 1-0 lead.
Commack took advantage of two walks to open the bottom of the third. Justin Crispino, who hit four of his five home runs in the playoffs, worked a leadoff walk and moved to second when Patane walked. Joe DiMotta singled through the right side to tie the score at 1. After Chris McHugh grounded softly to the mound, Connor Schramm lifted a sacrifice fly to centerfield for the 2-1 lead.
“Those leadoff walks always come back to bite you,” Salmon said. “And our lineup can hurt you in so many ways. We have hitters all the way through this lineup,”
Matt McGurk followed with a hard one-out single through the right side to make it 3-1.
Smithtown East cut the lead in half in the fourth. Kurt Schneider launched a long one-out, solo home run to leftfield to make it 3-2. After consecutive two-out walks to Suppa and Cole Conte, Commack starter Ryan Krzemienski was relieved by Schramm.
An infield error loaded the bases before Matt Wilde lined a two-out, two-run single for the 4-3 Smithtown lead.
“Smithtown East battled every inning,” Salmon said. “And they played great defense.”
Commack responded with a game changing fourth. Mike Pulcini led off with a walk, moved to second on a groundout and scored on an Anthony Chiappetta single to tie it at 4. The lefty swinging Crispino drilled a line drive deep into the left centerfield gap that looked like extra bases. Wilde, sprinting across the outfield from his centerfield position, with the ball tailing away from him, made an unbelievable all-out diving catch for the second out.
“I got a good swing on it and he made a heck of a catch,” Crispino said. “I was disappointed. But you must respect the hustle and the play.”
The Smithtown dugout erupted with the run-saving catch.
“He’s made plays like that all season,” said Smithtown East coach Rob Christiansen. “He’s got so much range out there. It was incredible.”
The Cougars' disappointment lasted a New York minute as Patane crushed the decisive two-out, two-run home run for the lead.
“He is a pure hitter,” Salmon said of Patane.
Schramm shut the Smithtown offense down over the final three and a third innings. He escaped a one-out first and third jam in the fifth when he picked a Smithtown runner off third base.
“Chris [McHugh] called the pickoff play and Connor executed the timing of it,” Salmon said. “That was a big defensive play for us.”
Schramm allowed two hits and two walks to earn the win.
“We know we have to hit to win.” Christiansen said. “I thought our starter [Dom Weidman] kept us in the game against what I believe is the best hitting team on Long Island.”
It all begins with Patane.
Patane's father, who had pneumonia two weeks ago, was admitted to Huntington Hospital Friday afternoon with fluid around the lungs.
"I couldn't breathe and I was trying to put it off because I've never missed any of Joey's games," said Joe Patane Sr. from his hospital bed. "I'm so proud of him. Every day he shows me what an incredible kid he is - it's amazing."