Jack Tate of Wantagh reacts after sliding safely into home...

Jack Tate of Wantagh reacts after sliding safely into home off a hit by Paul Fontana during game one of the Nassau Class A baseball finals against Clarke on Saturday, May 25, 2024 at Farmingdale State College.. Credit: Dawn McCormick

Wantagh’s Jack Tate had been everything a contender could want from its No. 1 pitcher for six innings. After Wantagh scored twice in the top of the third – and facing perennial contender Clarke in Saturday’s Game 1 of the Nassau Class A Championship Series – he’d kept the lead and stranded a pair of men in scoring position as it took a two-run lead into the bottom of the seventh.

But now the pitch count was climbing and some cracks were beginning to show.

He gave up a run and the Rams loaded the bases with one out. Lefthander Christian Danzillo – the planned Game 2 starter – was summoned to put out the fire. He struck out the first man he faced and then Michael Iadevaia hit a perilous flare toward left field.

When it settled into the glove of backpedaling shortstop Ryan Conigliaro, the fire had been extinguished and Wantagh had secured a 4-3 win at the end of a fiercely competitive series opener at Farmingdale State.

“That flare would have been the worst way to lose,” Danzillo said.

“I never worry when he comes into a game,” Tate said. “That’s when I know we’re going to win.”

Wantagh (21-3-1) and Clarke (20-5) played Game 1 with equal desperation – taking chances on the bases and with crisp defensive plays – and there’s no reason to expect anything different in Sunday’s 10 a.m. Game 2 at Farmingdale State.

“We wanted him for Game 2 but we thought we could use him if we needed him today,” Wantagh coach Keith Sachs said of Danzillo. “You do anything to get that win because [Clarke] loses maybe three games a year. . . . You get a shot and you have to take it.”

And that’s precisely the way Sachs had Wantagh play it. With two out and runners at the corners in the third, he put Tate in motion toward second base as Paul Fontana connected off Rams righty Nick Berasti on a single to right field. Tate never stopped churning on the bases and Sachs never stopped waving from the third base coach’s box and he slid home ahead of the throw for a 2-0 lead.

“It’s an opportunity against their ace and how many of those will you get?” Sachs said. “You have to go for it. . . . Fontana has been playing his best since the playoffs started.”

“I had to stay focused and come through,” said Fontana, who also had a go-ahead home run in the deciding Game 3 of the Semifinal Series win over Plainedge. “It’s senior year and our guys have been playing so well all season.”

Clarke cut the margin in half in the bottom of the frame when James Beckworth drew a walk, stole second, took third when the throw trickled into center and scored on AJ Cumbo’s sacrifice fly.

What had been a pitchers duel took a sharp turn when Berasti lost the plate with two out in the fifth. Five straight Wantagh batters walked and two scored on wild pitches for a 4-1 lead.

“We do things that can rattle any pitcher and just a little (push) can lead to a good inning,” Tate said.

Clarke never stopped coming after Wantagh. It got a run in the sixth on a Jaret Sarrantonio RBI walk in the sixth before Tate stranded the bases loaded. Then it got one in the seventh when pinch hitter Grady Rick and Giancarlo Rengifo opened it with back-to-back doubles.

With the tying run 90 feet away and the potential game-winner on second, Danzillo save Wantagh’s day.

“I didn’t expect to pitch but knew I had to be ready,” he said. “You have to be in a situation like this.”


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