Run prevention has driven Smithtown East's ascension to first place this season.
Dominant pitching often has been the key, but defense took center stage Thursday and led host Smithtown East over Smithtown West, 8-6, in League III baseball.
Winning pitcher Dominic Savino allowed two earned runs in five innings. Matt Milne went 2-for-2 with a walk and scored twice for Smithtown East (15-2), which has allowed only 1.5 runs per game.
"I was getting ahead and threw strikes,'' said Savino, who struck out one and did not walk a batter. "They knew I was going to come out there and throw strikes. They were jumping on them, but they hit ground balls. That's all I ask. And we made the plays.''
Third baseman John Marti shined in the fifth inning, charging three balls near the foul line and firing across the diamond to record the outs. "He made three outstanding plays in a row,'' coach Ken Klee said, "and it kept the momentum in our favor.''
Smithtown East's defense made a number of impressive plays. Rightfielder Dylan Vetter combined with his cutoff man, Milne, to throw out a runner at the plate. Shawn Kelly made a running catch in deep centerfield to end the top of the fourth.
"Pitching and defense has been our strong point,'' Klee said. "It was a gritty effort today from Savino and he got the job done without his best stuff.''
Smithtown East scored five runs in the second inning to take a 5-2 lead. Kelly's hard-hit grounder drove in two runs and capped the rally. East tacked on three runs in the fifth and took an 8-3 lead into the seventh.
West (13-4) did not go quietly, though, hitting four consecutive singles with two outs to cut the deficit to 8-6. Pat Lagravinese, who pitched two innings of relief, induced a grounder to the mound that ended the game.
In the bottom of the fifth, a ground-rule, RBI double by Tom Gonzalez to deep left, a run-scoring single by Matt DiPietro and a squeeze bunt from Marti in consecutive at-bats put East ahead 8-3.
"Coach was walking away and I got the sign at the last minute,'' Marti said. "It was very exciting.''