After winning last season’s league championship, the Long Island Lutheran baseball team entered this year with one thought in mind.
Defending this title wasn’t just a hope. It had become the expectation.
One that came to reality on Thursday.
Jack Coogan and Alex Pelaez led the way as host Lutheran defeated Portledge, 15-2, to win its second consecutive PSAA baseball championship.
“This was expected,” Coogan said, as LuHi finished undefeated in league play. “We came here with that attitude, that we knew we were going to win, and we played like it.”
LuHi advances to compete in the state tournament next week.
Pelaez reiterated the standard LuHi mantra following last year’s title-clinching campaign.
“This was what we expected and our team came in hot and ready to play,” said Pelaez, who went 2-for-3 with two walks and three runs scored. “We looked at the schedule, understood that we beat them last year and we came in with the same attitude this year. Practiced a lot, a lot of fielding, hitting, reps. And as a captain, I loved it.”
LuHi (11-0) set the tone in the opening inning, tallying four runs.
Eleven runs in the fifth sealed the title by run-rule. Run-scoring singles from Ivan Epps and Michael Malherb, along with two errors, extended the lead to seven before Coogan ripped a two-run single to stretch the Crusaders’ advantage to 11-2.
“It was just about not getting complacent,” Coogan said. “The last time we played them we took until the third inning to really get going. So we told ourselves to just get after it right away, and that’s what we did.”
Portledge scored two runs in the third, but LuHi shut the Panthers out the remainder of the way. John Cutter pitched three innings to earn the victory and Malherb tossed the final two in relief.
“John did a great job,” LuHi coach Casey Cunningham said. “He was actually penciled in to be one of our catchers this year, and all of our coaches got together and decided that his future would be on the mound. And I think they’re completely correct; he’s a stud out there.”
Cunningham also credited his staff for establishing a culture shift that has helped lead to back-to-back league titles.
“I’m just proud of the guys,” Cunningham said. “My coaches and I came in four years ago and developed a winning culture. It means a lot and I think we’re definitely going in the right direction.”