Matt Hogan’s second two-run home run of the game brought Half Hollow Hills East within a run of Smithtown East in the bottom of the sixth inning Friday. A six-run lead had all but disappeared, and the Bulls were in need of a stopper.
Hogan’s blast to centerfield, which went about 400 feet, brought Tyler Loft in from the bullpen, and the junior righthander responded in a big way.
Loft fired two hitless innings, striking out three, to shut down the Thunderbirds and earn the save as Smithtown East held on to beat Hills East, 8-7, in a Suffolk III baseball game.
“I want the ball in those situations,” Loft said. “There’s some pressure because we’re undefeated and we want it to stay that way. But I felt like I was hitting my spots and the umpire was consistently giving me the outside corner.”
It was Loft’s first save of the season as Smithtown East improved to 11-0 in League III. Hills East fell to 5-6 after dropping two of the three games in the series by a run.
“We’re a young team and we’re learning,” Hills East coach Tim Belz said.
“We made too many mistakes early and that cost us the game. But it’s great to see Matt Hogan all the way back and playing at such a high level. He’s a game-changer.”
Hills East took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Nick Gavilla singled, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a two-out single by Joe Litchhult.
Doug Goodwin’s leadoff double ignited a four-run rally by Smithtown East in the second. Matt Laurelli contributed a two-run single and a two-run throwing error made it 4-1.
“We threw away a double-play ball,” Belz said.
Smithtown East added three runs in the third. Mike Ciminiello led off with the first of his three hits and Matt Wertheim moved Ciminiello to third with another single. Goodwin lined an RBI single to make it 5-1 and Nick Harvey added a two-out, two-run single for a 7-1 lead.
That’s when the Vanderbilt-bound Hogan went to work.
He launched a triple to deep right-centerfield and scored on Eric Tow’s single in a two-run third that got the T-birds within 7-3.
In the fourth, Hogan made Smithtown East pay for a two-out infield error when he smoked a 1-and-1 pitch to left-centerfield for a two-run homer that made it 7-5.
Smithtown East took an 8-5 lead in the sixth when Will Kennedy, who was 2-for-4, singled and scored on a two-out wild pitch.
That proved critical when Hogan blasted another two-run homer in the bottom of the inning, prompting the call to Loft.
“We came up short, but we battled,” Hogan said. “We’ll be all right.”