Just as Valley Stream Central's starting pitcher was settling into a groove after a spotless first two innings, he had to leave the game for personal reasons.
Suddenly, a matchup against Calhoun not only was a chance to climb the standings in Conference AA-III but also an opportunity for the host Eagles to win one for a teammate.
"I pulled them all aside,'' coach Frank Alesia said, "and was like, 'Listen. This is adversity. How are we going to react?' ''
Reliever Will DeLuca reacted the best way he knew how: with five innings of one-run ball to secure a 2-1 win for Valley Stream Central (4-2) Thursday at Fireman's Field. Mike Ciullo's inside-the-park home run broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth.
"That's always what we do: pick up teammates,'' DeLuca said. "I wasn't going to not step up.''
DeLuca (1-0) gave up four hits and two walks and struck out six to earn the win in his first appearance in a conference game this year.
Calhoun, which fell to 2-4 in Conference AA-IV, also received a quality pitching performance. Dylan Hughes allowed two earned runs, six hits and a walk in six innings, striking out nine.
Cain Ruiz gave Valley Stream Central a 1-0 lead in the third with a single that drove in DeLuca. Calhoun's Jake Gargiulo responded in the sixth with a single to rightfield that drove in Connor Hannon.
In the bottom of the inning, with Hughes in a rhythm, Ciullo led off.
"We need a hit here,'' shortstop Elijah Tavarez said while watching intently from the bench area with his face pressed up against the chainlink fence.
Ciullo approached the at-bat with this mind-set: looking to make solid contact after striking out in his first two at-bats. Beyond the centerfield fence, a row of white houses was giving him problems picking up the ball. "I wasn't seeing it great, so I shortened up my swing in my third at-bat,'' Ciullo said.
He laced a fastball down the rightfield line that eluded the diving fielder, and the 6-foot, 210-pound first baseman turned on the jets. There was a lot of adrenaline. It was a big spot. But even with a lot racing through his mind as he rounded the bases, Ciullo said he still had thoughts of the teammate he was looking to pick up.