Connetquot needed a baseball hero on Thursday. Matt Brown-Eiring answered the call.
The Thunderbirds had used their estimable 1-2 punch of starters Joe Savino and Matt Goodis in the first two games of their Suffolk AA semifinal series with Longwood on Tuesday and Wednesday, earning just a split. The third spot in the rotation has been a revolving door, so coach Rob Burger gathered the candidates together after Wednesday’s game looking for a sign.
Brown-Eiring may not have started a game all season but in that moment jumped at the chance, saying “coach, let me start.” All he did with the opportunity was pitch a gritty five-hit shutout and put third-seeded Connetquot in the championship series.
“I honestly never thought they’d give Matt the ball. I picture him as a bullpen guy and not as the ‘go-the-distance’ type,” catcher Josh McGee said. “But he has all kinds of heart and he stepped up when the team really needed someone to throw. That was total leadership, total confidence. He was just awesome.”
Connetquot (19-5) will open the championship series on Saturday against either No. 1 Ward Melville or No. 4 West Islip, who will play a deciding Game 3 of their series on Friday.
The Thunderbirds gave Brown-Eiring a little wiggle room with a pair of runs in the home first inning. McGee drove in the first run on a lashed single to left-center and Mike Barbara got in the second on a fielder’s choice. It was all they would get off Tommy Ventimiglia — who closed Wednesday’s 1-0 win for the Lions — as he allowed just two hits the rest of the way.
Brown-Eiring performed with heightened emotion and obvious swagger in the 112-pitch effort in which he walked two and struck out 10. The only dire situations he encountered were in the fourth and fifth innings.
In the fourth, the Lions used a Griffin Bell double and a pair of walks to load the bases with two out. Burger was considering a move when he visited the mound “but he said ‘you’re not taking me out of this game,’ ” Burger said. “He sometimes gets that look and he had it right there and we know that look.”
Brown-Eiring got a foul pop-up to get out of the jam.
In the fifth with one on and two out, he faced Longwood’s powerful Jose Matos. Brown-Ering had a pitch up that the Lions’ No. 3 hitter got a hold of. However, it didn’t have enough to clear the wall and leftfielder Derek Yalon corralled it on the warning track to end the threat.
“You put yourself in that position — you get yourself out,” said Brown-Eiring, who hopped off the mound screaming “let’s go” after getting the final out in the fourth.
Bell had two hits, rightfielder James Myler made a splendid diving catch and first baseman Ryan Fitzpatrick snared a bunt and alertly turned it into a double play for Longwood (18-8).
“He has this thing about him. He walks with a little bit of a strut,” Burger said. “He’s different from a lot of other kids because he doesn’t get caught up in the thinking. He just plays baseball. A lot of kids get caught up over-thinking. Not him...He’s a gamer.”