Two and out to the 16th and lowest seed is all the players in the Clarke baseball program can think about since last year's quick and unexpected playoff exit. An undefeated regular season through a grueling schedule and the Rams were destined for an appearance in the Nassau Class A final.
The date never materialized.
Clarke, the top seed, lost its first best-of-three playoff series to pitching-rich Plainedge, which went on to win the Nassau title, taking two of three against Island Trees.
"There is an added incentive to come back and win it all," said Clarke coach Tom Abruscato, who led the Rams to the Long Island title in 2009. "We ran into some big-time pitching in the postseason the last few years and we got beat."
For the past three years, Clarke has fallen in the early rounds of the playoffs. They were two and out in 2010 and 2011, leaving them 1-6 in postseason play. That's a striking statistic because Clarke has Long Island's best three-year, regular-season record during that span at 48-6-1.
The traditional powerhouse is never short on talent. Senior third baseman Joe Fusco, who is Hofstra-bound, and senior centerfielder John Fogarty, who will play at Adelphi, give the Rams offensive punch as they look for the school's 16th conference title in 17 years.
"We have Mineola, Valley Stream North and a young Seaford in our conference and our crossovers are equally tough games with Manhasset, Plainedge and Division," said Abruscato, who has led the Rams to five county championships and has 296 career wins. "I'm proud of what this program has accomplished. We've had to tip our caps in the postseason against some great pitchers."
MacArthur also has felt the sting of the postseason. The Generals have advanced to the Nassau Class AA finals in six of the last seven years, but haven't won a county crown since 1994.
"We've found so much success during the season and in getting to the finals," MacArthur coach Steve Costello said. "Things haven't gone our way in the playoffs."
Costello, who has 379 career wins, has a senior-laden lineup with infielder Sean Carey, first baseman Anthony DeNunzio, who had 25 RBIs last season, and infielder Tom Kelleher, who is headed to Seton Hall. The pitching staff is young but 6-4, 240-pound hard-throwing righty Adam Heidenfelder is getting a lot of Division I attention after he averaged 17 strikeouts per nine innings as a sophomore.
Massapequa will battle for the Class AA crown. The Chiefs won four straight county titles from 2006-09 and have the firepower to win it again this year. They have senior catcher Nick Fanneron, who is headed to Northeastern, senior second baseman Nick Comito and two outstanding juniors in lefthander Alex Cosena and shortstop Bobby Honeyman.
The Chiefs were ousted in the Class AA semifinals in two tough losses to eventual champion Calhoun.
"Both playoff games ended with the potential winning runs on base," said Massapequa coach Tom Sheedy, who has a career record of 176-52-1, winning the first of four Nassau crowns in 2006, when he guided the Chiefs to a 29-0 record, the last time a Long Island team went undefeated.
Farmingdale will vie for a conference title with a pitching staff that includes seniors Tim Manolt, who was 4-1 as a junior, Anthony Galanoudis and Anthony Bonilla. Senior first baseman Harrison Graf and centerfielder Rich Sullivan are the offensive keys. Port Washington has Nassau's top battery in fireballing righty Bryce Keller, who is headed to Princeton and catcher Nick Duarte, who will play for Siena.
In Class B there could be a rematch in the final as Oyster Bay goes for its seventh straight county title. The Baymen swept Cold Spring Harbor last year and will lean on senior pitcher Dillon Robinson, who was 5-0 with a 2.90 ERA, and senior catcher Tom Kelly, who hit .365 with 19 RBIs.