Centereach starting pitcher Rocco Panaro delivers a pitch against West...

Centereach starting pitcher Rocco Panaro delivers a pitch against West Babylon in a Suffolk Class AA baseball playoff, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Credit: George A Faella

Rocco Panaro made sure Centereach wasn’t going to be facing elimination right off the bat in the Suffolk AA baseball playoffs, with help from the golden gloves behind him, Logan Norman’s blazing speed and Josh Ortiz’s head’s-up hitting.

Panaro tossed a three-hitter, and the third-seeded Cougars blanked the sixth-seeded visitors from West Babylon, 2-0, Tuesday in an opening-round matchup.

So Centereach (13-6) will get another home game Thursday when it faces No. 7 Comsewogue in the winners’ bracket of this double-elimination tournament.

“We’ve got everything that we need to win,” Panaro said. “We have everything.”

The Eagles (13-6), a 2023 Class A state final four team, dropped into the losers’ bracket. They will play Thursday at No. 2 Smithtown West.

“It definitely didn’t make it easy on us,” West Babylon coach Shaun Kaminski said. “… We fought back all season long. I know these guys aren’t going to quit.”

Panaro struck out just two. But the senior righthander and Western Connecticut State commit mixed in his curveball and kept the Eagles off-balance. He threw strikes, walking only two, and his defense excelled behind him.

“He may not have the biggest velo of all pitchers, but you know what? His off-speed just keeps everybody guessing, and that’s why he’s been effective all year long,” Cougars coach Pete Cammarata said.

West Babylon senior righty Jace Alvino allowed just five hits and one walk and fanned six over six innings. And both runs against him scored on errors.

In the first, Norman walked with one out, swiped second and scored from there on a big one-hopper that was misplayed.

“Coach Cam wanted me to be aggressive on the bases,” Norman said. “… I don’t always have the highest confidence on the base, but he’s been boosting that a lot and just telling me to go, and it’s been working out.”

In the third, Norman singled to right with two outs, then took off on another steal attempt. Ortiz knew the second baseman was going to cover and shot a single through the vacated hole.

“Just a feel for the game,” Ortiz said.

The ball was misplayed in right. Norman sped all the way around.

“You can’t coach speed, right?” Cammarata said.

You can coach a determined group.

“Everyone came back hungry [from last season],” Ortiz said.

Cammarata appreciates their attitude.

“From Day One, this team has been gritty,” he said, “and they just never quit.”


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