For parts of five decades I have covered high school baseball for Newsday. My first Long Island championship game set the tone for a career loaded with great memories and unforgettable performances. In that 1986 Class A title game, lefthander Rob DiLello of Connetquot tossed a no-hitter to beat MacArthur at the old New York Tech grass field.
I never thought it could get any better, and yet it did.
The last indelible moment came in spring 2019, when Center Moriches celebrated its second straight state crown at Binghamton University. The image of the Red Devils rushing to dog pile on the pitcher’s mound, like so many of Long Island’s championship teams before them, still resonates.
That celebration put the finishing touch on the state’s Class B title as Center Moriches continued one of the greatest runs in Long Island’s rich baseball history. The Red Devils went 26-0 and tied for Long Island’s second-longest win streak at 41 (MacArthur won 41 in a row from 1994-95). Division holds the record of 47 straight wins from 1996-97. But the streak couldn’t be extended this spring as high school sports were canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
With this in mind here’s some of the most memorable games I have covered.
Stroman vs. Matz
April 16, 2009: It’s arguably the greatest game, an epic showdown between current Mets pitchers Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz – one with many storylines, including the race for the Suffolk League I title, consideration for the Yastrzemski Award (as Suffolk’s top player), and ultimately positioning in the MLB amateur draft.
Matz fired a one-hitter and struck out 12 in Ward Melville’s 1-0 win over Patchogue-Medford. Stroman struck out 14 and allowed three hits. The run was unearned. The game drew the attention of more than 50 scouts representing every major league organization.
“It was an even bigger deal because it was our school’s first league title in 35 years,” said Matz, from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. “But the hype around the game was just incredible. I could be in towns all across Long Island and people still want to talk about that game.”
June 10, 1986: Rob DiLello remembers he couldn’t throw a strike in his warmups for the Long Island Class A championship, but the Connetquot senior lefthander quickly found his rhythm.
DiLello fired a no-hitter in a 7-0 win over MacArthur as his school won its first LI title. He punctuated his performance with a three-pitch strikeout to end the game.
“I was so nervous and extremely pumped up,” said DiLello, who has taught physical education for the past 35 years at Brentwood High School. “Once we took the early lead, I found my groove and we played great defense.”
“We had two unbelievable defensive plays,” DiLello recalled. “Our third baseman, Paul Crepaldi, made a diving stop in-between third and shortstop in the fifth inning. And our centerfielder, Dennis Hahn, ran down a ball that was scorched into left-centerfield. I knew he had it the whole time, I didn’t even look.”
“I’ll never forget my friends Doug and Dave Kluepfel, Mario Pedra, Kevin McCaffrey and Greg Signorile carrying me off the field,” said DiLello, who pitched three playoff shutouts. “Sports-wise it was the greatest day of my life. I said it then and I’ll say it now: Without my defense, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
Smith, Wantagh state champs
June 12, 1998: A rainswept day of championship baseball at P & C Stadium in Syracuse ended with Wantagh lefthander Chris Smith copping two wins and the school’s first state Class B crown. “It was the longest day ever,” Smith said with a laugh. “We had batting practice at like 6 a.m., won the semifinal, and then waited to play the final.”
Smith struck out five of the first six batters in the semifinal and Wantagh had a 10-0 lead on Beacon.
“We pulled him out of the semi to pitch the final against undefeated Queensbury,” Wantagh coach Keith Sachs said. “But it got crazy because Beacon came back to 10-6 before we held on for a 12-6 win.”
Smith fired a three-hitter with six strikeouts in Wantagh’s 5-3 come-from-behind win for the crown. He set the tone early with a double off the right-centerfield wall, and ignited a four-run rally in the third with an RBI double.
“I’d never pitched in a morning game and then again that same night, but I had to do what I had to do to win that state championship,” Smith said. “It’s what we played for all those years and we were up against a great team.”
Smith, who threw 161 pitches that day and struck out the last two batters with the tying run on base, finished his season 15-0 for the Warriors (29-1).
“We were a close-knit team,” Smith said. “Nothing beats winning that state championship with all my guys.”
Smith played at Florida State and was the seventh overall pick (by Baltimore) of the first round of the 2001 MLB draft.
Longwood’s improbable run
June 12, 1998: Longwood’s season was over. And then it wasn’t.
A team must have an above-.500 record to qualify for the county tournament but the Section XI displacement rule came into play. Sachem (enrollment 3,300) made the playoffs, and under the rule, any other League I team with a record of at least .500 and an enrollment of 175 percent less than Sachem also qualified.
Unaware of the displacement rule, Longwood players had handed in their uniforms after finishing 9-9.
“We were headed to the beach,” said Longwood catcher Mike Herbst, who now is head coach at Bay Shore High School. “We were done, toast. And then we got the call that we qualified for the playoffs and we were like ‘let’s do this.’ It was a second chance.”
Longwood reeled off nine straight wins and won the Class A state championship with a 13-4 win over Burnt Hills at Blue Sox Stadium in Utica.
In the semifinal game, the Lions won, 5-3, to eliminate North Rockland, which had won three state titles in the six previous years. Righthander Kevin Willi, who now is head coach at Shoreham-Wading River, struck out eight in the win. The semifinal ended in spectacular fashion. With runners on first and third, Longwood second baseman Paul Spera made a diving stop of a grounder and fired to Willi covering first base for the final out.
“We were a team of destiny,” Herbst said. “We did everything right. It was unbelievable.”
Coman’s catch that wasn’t
May 31, 2013: Sophomore Joe Flynn launched his second home run of the game, a grand slam, to ignite a six-run sixth inning and help Ward Melville come back for a 12-5 win over Connetquot to claim the school’s first Suffolk Class AA title.
Flynn, who also homered in the fourth, added two walks and totaled 7 RBIs.
But perhaps the key to the win came in the emotion of an apparent fourth-inning catch that was ruled a home run. Connetquot forged a 4-0 lead after pinch hitter Brendan Morse hit what was ruled a three-run homer off future major-league lefty Anthony Kay despite an outrageous leaping catch that carried Patriots leftfielder Greg Coman over the left-centerfield fence. But umpires ruled Coman extended the fence when he stepped on the bottom of the mesh and awarded the homer.
“All anyone wanted to talk about was the catch that wasn’t,” said Ward Melville skipper Lou Petrucci. “It was the wrong call. Hey, good teams always respond to negative situations. Our guys got fired up and rallied to win. I’ve never seen anything like it in my 45 years of baseball. I truly believe that had it not happened, we may have lost. It’s the most spectacular catch I’ve ever seen.”
Kay pitched a complete game for his 20th win and Ward Melville went on to win the Long Island championship behind Chris Cepeda’s three-hitter in a 1-0 win over Massapequa.
“Flynn hit five homers in four playoff games, the most clutch hitter ever,” Petrucci laughed. “And it’s still all about the catch -- unbelievable.”
Reichenbach carries Sachem
May 29-30, 1987: It happened in a 21-hour span for Sachem’s senior righthander Eric Reichenbach. He tossed shutout wins over East Islip in Games 1 and 3 of the Suffolk Class A best-of-three championship series.
In Game 1 Friday, Reichenbach won, 2-0, on a four-hitter. And after East Islip rallied to win Game 2 Saturday morning, Reichenbach told coach Bill Batewell he wanted the ball for the deciding Game 3 that afternoon.
“I felt loose,” Reichenbach said. “Coach Batewell asked my father [Ray Reichenbach] and he said yes, that I was up to it.”
Reichenbach was more than up for it. In 90-degree heat, he threw a no-hitter on 76 pitches, allowing two baserunners and striking out five, in a 3-0 victory.
“As a player I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” said Reichenbach, who has been head coach at Mount Sinai for 16 years. “You do what you have to do as a player to win a championship. But from a coaching perspective, under no circumstances would I do that with a pitcher.”
Reichenbach said the championship win still feels good.
“I remember it was such a hot day and I got back to Sachem and sat in the shower with my clothes on,” he laughed. “I was cramping uncontrollably in the cool shower because I was so dehydrated. It feels like yesterday.”
Reichenbach was drafted by Toronto in the 32nd round, but opted to attend St. John’s University.
Morris owned Morristown
June 10, 1991: Junior righthander Ed Morris won three state tournament games in six days to lead Eastport into the Class D championship game.
He was just short of perfect in the semifinal, facing the minimum 21 batters with 10 strikeouts. He allowed only a two-out single in the fifth inning in the 8-0 win over Morristown in Little Falls Stadium.
“The only hit was a bloop single just into the outfield,” said Morris, now director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Brookhaven. “I’ll never forget it. But our catcher erased him on the next pitch when he gunned him down trying to steal.”
Morris struck out eight of the first nine batters and needed only 81 pitches in the masterpiece. That came after his 10-strikeout, 2-1 complete game win over Millbrook earlier in the week. The following day, he got the win with two innings of relief in an 8-7 victory over Eldred.
Section XI rules at the time allowed pitchers to throw 18 innings per week, and Morris was only available for only two innings in the title game that Eastport lost, 11-6, to Frewsburg.
Bigan a big shot
June 11, 1994: MacArthur senior righthander Rob Bigan waited a year to pitch in the state final. His start in the 1993 state championship never materialized as the Generals lost in the semifinal round.
But in the state Class B title game a year later, Bigan fired a one-hitter with six strikeouts and four walks in an 8-2 win over Marlboro at Blue Sox Stadium in Utica. MacArthur (29-0) was the first Long Island team to capture a state crown undefeated.
“It always stuck in my head that we dominated a team that had two future major leaguers in Dee Brown and Robbie Bell,” said MacArthur coach Steve Costello. “We were arguably one of the best Long Island teams of all time.”
MacArthur trailed 2-0 in the fourth inning but scored four times, keyed by Vin Causeman's two-run single and Jim Kegel’s RBI triple. Jeff Tyler, who struck out 10 in an 11-3 win over Kenmore East in the semifinal, added two doubles in the final.
“Bigan’s bus ride home was miserable as a junior because he never got the chance to pitch,” Costello said. “But the ride home after the title clincher was awesome.”
East Hampton’s Gload blasts three
June 2, 1994: It was a high school version of Reggie Jackson in the 1977 World Series. Lefthanded hitting Ross Gload launched three home runs with five RBIs to lead East Hampton over Kings Park, 10-5, to win the Suffolk Small Schools title at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
And what timing.University of South Florida coach Ed Cardieri, was in attendance and after the game offered Gload a scholarship.
“Our home field was so small and folks from up Island didn’t give us any respect,” said catcher Henry Meyer, who had two hits in the game. “We always felt we had to prove that we could play. People would sneer at our home run totals because our fences were short. Ross was a different kind of hitter and it didn’t matter the size of the field because he had such great bat speed and he was so strong.”
Gload finished with an LI-record 20 home runs and 61 RBIs. Meyer added nine home runs and 39 RBIs. That’s a combined 100 RBIs.
“I remember the Connetquot-Commack championship had just ended before us and the crowd got up and left,” said Vinny Alversa, then an East Hampton sophomore. “And they missed one of the greatest performances ever. His third homer bounced off the school 400 feet away.”
The perfect game
April 1, 2014: Talk about first impressions.
Carle Place junior Mike Delio, in his first varsity start, pitched the ultimate perfect game – 21 consecutive strikeouts in a 15-0 win over Hempstead.
“Some people thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke,” Delio said. “A perfect game is hard enough but a perfect game with all strikeouts, that’s crazy. I think about it all the time – how it unfolded and became a reality.”
Sophomore catcher Dylan Iglesias squeezed Delio’s last fastball for the final out. Iglesias was also making his debut.
“Our starting catcher, Anthony Pepe, was out sick, and Dylan got the call,” Delio said. “And he made the play that saved the perfect game.”
In the fourth inning, Iglesias blocked a third strike in the dirt and the ball ricocheted up the third-base line. “He bolted out, barehanded the ball and threw the guy out,” Delio said. “It was the defensive play of the game.”
Delio threw 84 pitches, 70 for strikes, and went to a three-ball count only once.
“Strangely, I wasn’t even supposed to pitch that day,” Delio said. “I was scheduled to pitch against Herricks the day before and we got snowed out.”
Clutch Hit Brings LI Crown
June 4, 1997: Tim Mangano lined a single to centerfield to score Terry Quinn from third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning as East Meadow won in walk-off fashion besting Commack, 2-1, to claim the Long Island Class A championship. The game played at Levittown-Division High School, featured 27 strikeouts. East Meadow starter John Troiola, who was 12-0 that season, struck out 14 and pitched all nine innings.
Junior Delight Wins Catholic Title
May 27, 2002: St. John the Baptist junior third baseman Ryan McArdle hit a one-out, two-run home run to give the Cougars a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Chaminade in the championship game of the Nassau-Suffolk Catholic High School Athletic Association played at New York Tech. McArdle had 11 homers for the season and won the NSCHSAA Player of the Year Award.
The Title Winning Throw
June 3, 2002: A relay from leftfielder Frank LoCascio to shortstop Chris Yandoli to catcher Chris Medici cut down the tying run at the plate and preserved Calhoun’s 4-3 win over Connetquot to capture the Long Island Class A title at the Police Athletic League Stadium in Holtsville. Scott King drove a ball off the top of the outfield fence that ricocheted back into play and started the Calhoun relay that nailed T-Birds catcher Jon Pasieka at the plate for the second out of the seventh inning. Andrew Raschen induced a fly out to seal the Colts championship.
Raiders Walk-off Winner
May 26, 2007: Patchogue-Medford’s Mike Salvatore launched a two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning for a walk-off win over Ward Melville in a Suffolk Class AA semifinal in 2007. The blast cleared the rightfield fence and landed in the parking lot. The big homer ended Ward Melville’s season.