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Wantagh baseball captures state championship

Wantagh Baseball team celebrates its Class A Championship.

Wantagh Baseball team celebrates its Class A Championship. Saturday June 11, 2016

ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Elation radiated from Jimmy Joyce’s face as the same wind that carried his game-winning home run over the fence seemed to push him around the bases.

It was the top of the ninth, Wantagh’s half. Williamsville East’s Charlie Mack had retired the first two batters before falling behind Joyce two balls, no strikes. Joyce guessed he would see a fastball, and Mack served one belt-high and over the plate.

“I just tried to put my best swing on it,” Joyce said. “I connected, and the wind did the rest.”

Blowing from right to left, the wind boosted the ball’s trajectory over the left-field wall. Teammates flooded the area between Wantagh’s third base dugout and home plate. Joyce removed his helmet as he floated towards second, raising it triumphantly above his head as he circled the rest of the bases.

The climb out of a four-run hole was complete.

Three more outs in the field sealed Wantagh’s first baseball state title since 1998, this one a 6-5 victory Saturday at Union-Endicott High School.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Joyce said as teammates and fans celebrated around him on the infield moments after the final out.

Bobby Hegarty threw 120 pitches in a complete game. After tossing three straight one-hitters in the playoffs, Hegarty allowed five hits and five runs in the first two innings. He allowed three hits over the next seven.

“It was a lot of bad hits falling in,” said Hegarty, who pitches to contact. “I was really pitching the way I always do. It was just bad luck. I knew my team would come back.”

The Warriors (25-5) had time on their side, even though the scoreboard read 5-1 after two innings.

No. 5 hitter Trevor Fagan led off a three-run fourth with a double down the left field line. Joe Murphy followed with a bunt that took a high hop. In a rush to beat Murphy to the bag, Williamsville East starter Ben Geiger overthrew first baseman Mike Steffan. Fagan scored and Murphy reached third. He scored on Mike Derham’s bunt a batter later, and Derham scored on a wild pitch with one out.

“We were scrappy,” coach Keith Sachs said. “Everybody was just doing their job.”

Joyce (3-for-5) singled through the right side leading off the fifth, advanced to third on a hit-and-run with Will O’Brien and scored the tying run on Anthony Fontana’s sacrifice fly to center.

Joyce singled leading off the seventh and stole second. With one out, Fontana hit a grounder to short. Joyce beat an errant throw to third. As the ball rattled around the fence along the third-base dugout, Joyce hesitated before running home. The umpire said Mack tagged out Joyce at the plate.

“I didn’t react quick enough,” said Joyce, who threw a one-hitter in Wantagh’s 2-1 semifinal win over previously unbeaten Queensbury earlier in the day. “I still think I was safe. He didn’t put a tag on me.”

In the bottom of the seventh, Williamsville East (22-7) loaded the bases with one out. Hegarty struck out Brandon Szubinski looking, but then Nick Kiffin hit a line drive to left field.

O’Brien said he covered his eyes with his cap, not wanting to witness the end of Wantagh’s season. Before he could turn around at third base, Joyce thought the ball would touch down.

But John Conroy read the ball perfectly.

“I was just trying to react on instinct,” he said, “and the ball got in my glove.”

That kept Wantagh alive and helped set the stage for Joyce’s heroics.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” Joyce said. “It’s great.”

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