Tom Monti thought about it all Friday night. The junior righthander hadn't pitched since May 5, but he was told at Friday's practice that he'd be Connetquot's starting pitcher against MacArthur in Saturday's Long Island Class AA championship game.
With Travis Bruinsma and John Hengge unavailable to start after pitching in the Suffolk finals, coach Bob Ambrosini decided Monti was his man.
"I thought, 'OK, I'm really nervous, but this is my chance to contribute to this team,' " Monti said after the Thunderbirds' 3-2 victory at the Dowling College Athletic Complexin Shirley. "I never thought I'd be pitching in the LI championship. But here it was right in front of me and I couldn't let these guys down."
And he didn't. Monti pitched 42/3 innings of three-hit ball before leaving the mound to a standing ovation. "He gave us just what we needed," Ambrosini said. "He was excellent."
With the score tied at 2 after a two-run fifth that included an RBI single by Brian Perez, Bruinsma relieved Monti with two outs and Perez on third and got an inning-ending groundout. "That's what the Iceman does," Brandon Morse said. "Travis comes in and shuts it down."
Kyle Bannon was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the fifth, stole second with one out and scored what proved to be the winning run on Christian Nissen's line-drive single to center. "I like to be aggressive on the first pitch,'' Nissen said, "and he was throwing first-pitch strikes."
Bruinsma retired seven straight batters, including two by strikeout, in the final 21/3 innings. He improved to 13-2, setting a school record for wins.
It was the fourth Long Island title for Connetquot, which won it in 1986, 1989 and 1995, and the third time Connetquot beat MacArthur in the L.I. title game. The T-Birds (24-4) will face Mamaroneck in a state semifinal at 10 a.m. Saturday in Binghamton.
"Coach said we'll remember this game 30 years from now, so we better enjoy it and play our hearts out," Nissen said. "So we've been living in these extremely exciting moments and taking it all in. We've been through a lot with the passing of John Hengge's dad, who was one of our biggest fans. So it's been very emotional."
So in the T-Birds' biggest game of the year, why did Ambrosini put it on Monti's shoulders?
"Every game has felt like the biggest game over the last two weeks," said Ambrosini, who has 582 wins in 31 years. "Monti was throwing bullpens every week and looked good. I thought he'd be fresh and get the job done."
MacArthur's Jack Wall gave up six hits in six innings, walking one and striking out five. He allowed Dave Brehm's RBI single in the third and a sacrifice fly by Cole Clark in the fourth as the T-Birds took a 2-0 lead.
"Their pitcher did a good job of making us swing at his pitches," MacArthur coach Steve Costello said. "It was a great game. We came back in the fifth and we were right there."
And then the Iceman cometh again to save the T-Birds in the fifth. "I love the pressure," Bruinsma said. "We are one in Connetquot and we win for each other."