ENDWELL, N.Y. - Pitching and defense has been West Islip's greatest strength all season. Saturday it was more of the same on the mound as Lions starter Nick Arnold pitched another gem allowing only three hits and striking out eight through six innings.
But a defensive miscue in the bottom of the sixth inning proved critical as Victor of Rochester pushed across the only run of the game against West Islip in the state Class AA semifinal at Maine-Endwell High School.
Aaron Schlarbaum reached on an infield error to lead off the bottom of the sixth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After Joe Carrier was hit by a pitch, Arnold induced a pop up for the second out. But Mike Wagner lined his second single into rightfield to score Schlarbaum for the game winner.
"It hurts really bad right now," Arnold said. "We had a great season and no one wanted it to end. They got the big hit and we didn't."
Arnold was especially moved by teammates who were distraught over the loss.
"Our defense carried us here this season," he said. "We can't let that one play define us."
Arnold shut down a prolific Victor offense that averaged eight runs per game this season. He allowed only one runner to second base through five innings.
"He was phenomenal," Wagner said. "We really couldn't figure him out."
Arnold was at his best in the fourth inning. He allowed a leadoff double down the rightfield line but induced a pop out and struck out the next two hitters to keep the game scoreless. He retired 12 of 13 batters from the second through the fifth innings and was unhittable. He pounded the zone with a mix of fastball, slider and curve.
"Nick was dominant and had them off balance all game," said West Islip coach Shawn Rush, who led the Lions to their first state tournament appearance in 56 years. "And we wouldn't be here if it weren't for our defense which has played great all season. Their defense did what we normally do on big fields and took away our offense."
Wagner, the Victor starter, was equally impressive. His value came equally on the hill and at the plate. He scattered five hits and struck out five in a complete game performance.
The Lions rallied in the fifth inning with one out. Third baseman Lou Antos and centerfielder Travis Schindler hit back-to-back singles and with runners at first and third, Antos tried to score on Alex Barbera's chopper to third but was easily thrown out at the plate by third baseman Ben Banaszak for the second out. Brendan Emigholz struck out, ending the threat.
"We had a few opportunities and Wagner worked his way out of the jam," Rush said. "I'm proud of this team. It had a throwback old school mentality and a winning attitude. Our chemistry was amazing and they came together for a terrific playoff run and a Long Island title."