Max Nielsen thrust his arms in the air and the celebration was on. The Ward Melville baseball team piled out of the dugout and toward the mound to bury Nielsen in a sea of green and gold.
Nielsen struck out the side in the seventh inning to punctuate a record-breaking performance. The Connecticut-bound lefthander finished with a program-record 18 strikeouts as the Patriots shutout visiting West Islip, 8-0, in Game 3 of the best-of-three series in a Suffolk Class AA semifinal on Friday.
Nielsen allowed three hits, two walks and a hit batsman in his fifth win of the season to move Ward Melville into the Class AA championship series. The Patriots (20-6) will host Connetquot (19-5) in Game 1 of the finals Saturday at noon.
“I was so pumped because I knew what was on the line,” Nielsen said. “I didn’t locate well in the first few innings because the fastball was running too much on me. I went to the breaking ball more because it’s been a go-to pitch all season. And then I found my rhythm.”
West Islip (20-6) put on the first two runners in the first inning but the threat was quickly erased when catcher Anthony Pascale gunned down Nick Siano trying to steal third base for the first out. Nielsen struck out the next two hitters.
“I was surprised he was going with no outs,” Pascale said. “It was a low fastball and I came up firing.”
West Islip didn’t move a runner past second base in the game.
“I walked the first guy and then the bunt single got past me,” Nielsen said. “Throwing the guy out trying to steal third really pumped me up.”
He struck out at least two batters in every inning and struck out the side in the third, sixth and seventh innings.
“He was purely dominant, the best I’ve ever seen him throw and he’s been on the varsity since the eighth grade,” said Ward Melville coach Lou Petrucci. “That was an incredible performance.”
Ward Melville scored two runs in the first inning and three more in the second against West Islip starter Anthony Cinquemani.
With one out in the first, Matt Maurer reached on an infield error and Ethan Farino was hit by a pitch. Pascale lined a single to center to score Maurer and Nielsen added an RBI single to score Farino for a 2-0 advantage.
The Patriots added three runs on three hits and two walks in the third. Justice Spencer crushed a run-scoring triple and Brady Doran and Pascale added RBI singles to make it 5-0.
“The run support was great,” Nielsen said. “It makes it so much easier.”
Ward Melville added three more runs in the fifth inning, including Alex Russo's two-out, two-run double to make it 8-0.
“Now, it’s on to the finals,” said Nielsen, who would be eligible to pitch if the championship series goes to a third game.
West Islip, the defending Class AA champions, had been to the finals in four of the last five years. The Lions evened the series with a 5-4 comeback win on Thursday.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” said West Islip coach Shawn Rush. “It was going to take a big-time performance to beat us.”
And Max Nielsen saved his best outing for what might have been his final high school appearance.