Sound defense and another brilliant pitching performance by Sam Kessler brought Mount Sinai its first Suffolk Class A baseball championship since the school opened in 1990. Kessler allowed only two hits and struck out seven, and third baseman DJ Gatz made three spectacular plays as the host Mustangs defeated Rocky Point, 4-1, Thursday before a crowd of approximately 600.
Mt. Sinai won the first two games of the best-of-three series.
Kessler retired 19 of the final 21 batters and punctuated the complete game with a strikeout.
“We played tight defense all season and we came through the toughest league on Long Island,” Kessler said. “It’s great to be a part of the school’s first county championship team. I’ve seen great players come through here and we have a winning tradition, but this is a first.”
Mt. Sinai (18-7) has been a model of consistency, qualifying for the playoffs in 15 of the past 16 years under coach Eric Reich enbach. But the sixth-seeded Mustangs never had played in the county final.
“When I look back at all the talent and all the success and we never won this thing,” Reichenbach said. “And this was by far the toughest year to win it. We had to beat seven or eight Division I pitchers to make it happen.”
Fifth-seeded Rocky Point (15-11) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after James Weisman singled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored from second on a passed ball. Mount Sinai tied it in the second, when James Sarno was hit by a pitch, moved to third on Kessler’s single and scored on a groundout.
The Mustangs would score three times in the third to take a 4-1 lead. Gatz blooped a single and Will Esposito drilled a double down the leftfield line for the 2-1 lead. Sarno followed with his second hit, a hard single to center, to drive in Esposito.
Sarno, who moved to the cleanup spot midway through the season, has been the key to the Mustangs’ offensive surge. After a groundout moved him to second, he raced for third on a wild pitch. When catcher Kyle Strovink had trouble locating the ball, Sarno aggressively came around third and scored to make it 4-1.
“How many times do you see a guy take two bases on a wild pitch?” Reichenbach said.
The three-run rally was enough for Kessler and his defense. Gatz made a long run to make an over-the-shoulder catch on a foul pop by Paul Dominguez for the first out in the fourth. He went hard to his right to make a diving stop of Chris Caswell’s grounder and threw him out for the last out in the sixth. He backhanded a Joe Grillo smash down the line and made an extremely long throw from the edge of the outfield grass for the first out of the seventh.
“I’ve been playing third base since I was seven years old,” said Gatz, who homered to lead off the series opener. “I love making the tough plays. You have to recognize and plan the hop, get up quick and throw it.”
Reichenbach credited pitching and defense as the keys to the title run.
“It’s easy when you have pitchers with command that throw strikes and a defense that is always ready,” he said. “And Gatz is the best athlete on the team — he just makes all the plays.”
Sarno, one of only three seniors on the team, said this crown was a long time coming. “It’s an indescribable feeling,” he said. “You want to go out your senior year with the county title.”