In the moment that epitomized Wantagh’s run to the state championship, John Conroy stood at the plate.
It was the deciding third game of the Nassau Class A championship, and Conroy led off the bottom of the seventh with the Warriors trailing Bellmore JFK 2-1.
Strike after strike came his way, none good enough to put in play. But Conroy, a junior outfielder, kept swinging and kept fouling pitches into the screen and the stands at Farmingdale State. He kept fighting.
Then Conroy identified a pitch he could handle and laced a line drive into leftfield.
Warriors coach Keith Sachs remembered the at-bat lasting eight pitches. Senior utility man Mike Derham recalled it going 11.
They found common ground here, as Sachs and Derham agreed, “That was one of the best at-bats in Wantagh history.”
Suddenly, the Warriors had life. Steve Forman pinch-ran, and scored the tying run on Jimmy Joyce’s groundout with one out to force extra innings.
Less than an hour later, the Warriors were county champions.
Wantagh’s stars were at the forefront of the most memorable moments during the playoff run. Joyce belted the ninth-inning, state-winning home run in a 6-5 victory over Williamsville East and pitched a one-hitter in a 2-1 semifinal win over previously unbeaten Queensbury. Bobby Hegarty, who hurled three straight one-hitters leading up to the championship, battled through early trouble in a 120-pitch complete game to secure the crown. And of course, two-time Nassau A-II MVP Will O’Brien delivered the walk-off hit to end the county final.
But without the role players, like Conroy and Derham, the Warriors (25-5) likely would not have returned home from Endicott as state champions.
“Jimmy’s a force. Will’s a dominant, MVP-caliber player, and Bobby was great,” Derham said. “But we know when we step up, we’re hard to beat.”
In the state championship, Conroy made a pair of difficult catches, one of which ended Williamsville East’s seventh-inning, bases loaded threat in a tie game. Derham laid down a suicide squeeze for Wantagh’s first run against Queensbury and a safety squeeze in a three-run fourth that cut Williamsville East’s lead to 5-4.
Charlie Interrante, a reserve all season, came off the bench in the third game of the county championship. He tripled twice and scored the winning run on O’Brien’s ninth-inning single.
“As we tell the kids, you work hard in practice and your chance may come,” Sachs said. “His chance came in the county finals, which is unheard of.”
In that same game, Brendan Haas, who had made one start all year, twirled six strong innings. The team’s fifth pitcher allowed just one run, giving Wantagh a chance.
“I feel like other teams didn’t have the depth that we had,” O’Brien said. “It’s definitely an advantage having those guys. They’re not the big-name guys, but they’re very good role players. They always get the job done.”
Warriors’ road to the championship
Valley Stream South, 8-2
Garden City, 5-0
North Shore, 5-2
North Shore, 2-1
Bellmore JFK, 3-1
Lost to Bellmore JFK, 1-0
Bellmore JFK, 3-2
Long Island championship
Mount Sinai, 3-1
Williamsville East, 6-5