Junior righty Drake Eggleston had a handle on it. The imposing closer for the Ward Melville baseball team came on in relief in the final inning to save the Patriots season.
Ward Melville had squandered most of an eight-run lead and was watching its season slowly slipping away as Sachem East mounted an comeback.
Eggleston took the mound with the bases loaded and no outs and the Patriots holding what now looked like a tenuous four-run lead.
“I knew what I had to do and we still had a fairly large run differential,” he said. “The atmosphere was intense and both teams were pretty rowdy. But I’m comfortable in a pressure situation and it’s just one pitch at a time.”
Lucky for Ward Melville, Eggleston wasn’t fazed by it all. He battled through the middle of the Sachem East lineup before Gianni Billotti came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs and the Patriots clinging to a two-run lead.
Billotti ran the count to 3-0 before Eggleston fired two strikes and induced a game-ending groundout on the 3-2 pitch and Ward Melville edged Sachem East, 9-7, on Thursday in a Suffolk Class AA elimination game in Setauket.
Sachem East scored six runs on six hits and sent 12 batters to the plate in the seventh.
It was Eggleston’s second save of the season. Ward Melville (19-4) will host Smithtown East on Friday at 4 p.m. The Patriots need to beat Smithtown East twice to advance.
“You can’t get too stressed out about it,” Eggleston said. “I was calm out there just throwing strikes.”
“Oh my, oh my, he is perfect for that pressure situation,” said Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci. “This is an intelligent kid who scored a 34 on his ACT and he figures it out. I give Sachem East credit for their resolve. They were down eight runs in the final inning of their season and they came back hard and that was impressive.”
Ward Melville’s junior lefty Chris Buehler threw one-run ball through six innings buoyed by some outstanding defensive contributions from catcher Tom Hudzik.
Buehler escaped a first and third jam in the fourth inning when Hudzik threw out a runner trying to steal second base. Hudzik then extinguished a Sachem East rally in the fifth when he picked the runner off first base to end the inning.
“He made two great plays today that people might forget because of the 9-7 score,” Petrucci said. “He made those plays when the score was close. And then we tacked on runs to open the big lead.”
At the center of the Ward Melville hitting attack was centerfielder Joe Rosselli, who hit a solo homer in the third inning for a 4-0 lead and added a two-run blast to cap a three-run sixth to make it 9-1.
Third baseman Logan Doran had two hits and three RBI and leftfielder James Curcio added two hits and a sacrifice fly for the Patriots, who scored in five of six innings.
“We’ve got some seniors here and we’re resilient, too,” Petrucci said. “Our leaders paved the way today and Eggleston closed it out.”