North Shore starting pitcher Garret Gates delivers to the plate...

North Shore starting pitcher Garret Gates delivers to the plate during a Nassau Conference A-2 baseball game against Clarke on Monday. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

It’s the final week of the high school baseball regular season and the playoff chase is on. The dash for the final two playoff spots in Nassau Conference A-2 looks as if it could rival last weekend’s Kentucky Derby photo finish with three teams — North Shore, Island Trees and Cold Spring Harbor — separated by a half game with two to play.

North Shore gained the nose lead on Monday by virtue of pulling out a 4-3 darkness-shortened six-inning road victory over formidable first-place Clarke.

The Vikings (9-9, 7-6) have gotten seven starts from lefthander Garret Gates and have gone 6-1 in those games. And so it was against the Rams (14-3, 11-2), though Gates had to work around poor location in the early going — five walks and 64 pitches in the first two innings — before finding a groove.

Antonio Barbetta had a run-scoring double down the rightfield line to cap a three-run rally by the Vikings in the fourth inning and lefty Ray Scalzo got the final out in the sixth inning after Gates hit the state-mandated 125-pitch limit for what would become a save.

“Clarke has had our number for a number of years and getting this win couldn’t come at a better time for us,” North Shore coach Rob Gates said. “This team is battling for a playoff spot and controlling our own destiny is huge.”

With Island Trees and Cold Spring Harbor — both 6-7 in the conference — facing each other this week, one more Vikings win would lock up a postseason bid. Easier said than done against the Rams.

Clarke was opportunistic and went ahead 2-0 in the first inning when Gates gave up a hit and two walks and the Vikings made three errors in the field. And it looked like things might get out of hand in the bottom of the second inning when Gates walked the first three batters. However he dug in and got the next three batters on a pair of strikeouts and an inning-ending flyout to keep the margin two runs.

“That was the make-or-break for us,” Garret Gates said. “I feel good when I can work around my pitching issues like that. . . . When we got out of that and then scored a run in the third, I knew we had this win in us.”

In the fourth inning it was North Shore’s turn to be opportunistic. The Vikings turned a pair of hits, a walk and two Clarke errors into three runs. Barbetta’s double on a full count scored Brady Ayres for a 4-2 lead.

“I don’t mind being aggressive but not to the point where you lose control of the ball,” Clarke coach Tom Abruscato said. “We helped them with that and we chased too many pitches at the top of the zone, where [Gates] has the [velocity] to beat you.”

Garret Gates entered play averaging 13 strikeouts per start and got 11 punchouts but walked seven. With his pitch count mounting though, he never considered going for soft contact to get deeper.

“I’m a strikeout guy,” Garret Gates said. “Contact was not on my mind. My mind is putting it past them.”

Games against Clarke Tuesday and Wednesday give North Shore its shot but, as Barbetta said, “we have to believe in ourselves and a win like this helps.”


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