- Pierson shortstop Ryan Miller ranged to his left and lost his footing. The senior nevertheless managed to scoop up the ground ball off the bat of Port Jefferson's Mike D'Auria, crawled a few feet toward second base and led with his glove in lunging for the bag. The 21st and final out of Pierson's come-from-behind 8-6 victory over Port Jefferson in game one of the Suffolk County Class C championship series summed up the Whalers' win - not the most graceful, not without flaw but gutty and plenty effective.
Shortstop Ryan Miller (center) jumps and bumps chests with relief pitcher Ed Schall after making the final out at second base.
After earning the putout, Miller emerged from a cloud of dirt, raced toward the mound and leaped into the arms of junior relief pitcher Ed Schall. Their teammates weren't far behind in celebrating. Schall's dominant performance on the mound as well as balance from spots one through nine in the batting order allowed Pierson to climb all the way back from five runs down to stun the visiting Royals and close to within one victory of claiming their first county title since 2006.
"It's absolutely huge," senior Joe Mascali said. "Ed Schall came in, we weren't really feeling it and he comes through. They didn't score any runs and we just chipped away. ... To put a banner on the wall, I've always wanted to do that. That's always been one of my goals throughout high school."
Mascali will get the ball when the teams return to the diamond on Thursday in Port Jeff (4 p.m.), where the Royals will look to stave off elimination. If a decisive third game is necessary, it will take place back in Sag Harbor on Saturday morning (11 a.m.). Whichever team prevails in the series will have to wait until next Friday to play the Class B champion, which will be Southampton, Babylon or League VIII co-champs Southold and Center Moriches.
"[A county championship] would be gigantic," Casey Crowley said. "I've been here for 17 years and seen them happen and always wanted to have one for myself."
Tyler Gilbride's fourth-inning double down the left-field line brought in two runs and was vital to the Whalers' come-from-behind win.
With the game tied at 6, Tyler Gilbride ripped a single to left to get the sixth inning started. Kyle McGowin then hit a room-service grounder to second that was misfielded by Drew Crovello; instead of turning two and stemming a Whaler rally, Crovello took the sure out at first. Gilbride advanced to third when Ed Schall bounced a Brendan Duffy pitch to Crovello as well. At that point, Pierson senior Joe Mascali reached on a hit batsmen and took second on defensive indifference. Up stepped Gavin Kudlak, who singled and walked in three plate appearances prior. The sophomore hit a 2-2 pitch high but shallow behind second base. Center fielder Joe Guerra charged in but couldn't haul in the fly ball. Gilbride and Mascali, both of whom are off at the crack of the bat, scored with ease to give Pierson an 8-6 edge.
"I think it's one of those times when the team realizes that all seven innings count," Head Coach Sean Crowley said. "Being the home team helped and having the seniors hold it all together."
The Whalers' job wasn't done yet and Port Jeff quickly reminded them of that in the top of the seventh. Chris Esposito and Ryan Ward led off with singles to put the tying run on base with nobody out. They were the first hits given up by Pierson junior Ed Schall, who took over for starter Kyle McGowin all the way back in the fourth. Schall struck out Guerra and induced a flyout to center by Pat O'Sullivan. However, he then walked Jon Clavin on four pitches to load the bases for the Royals' leadoff hitter, Mike D'Auria. On a 2-0 count, D'Auria slapped a ball to the left of second base which Pierson shortstop Ryan Miller fielded. Stumbling, Miller dove for the nearest bag and forced out Clavin for the final out of the game.
Pierson reliever Ed Schall went three-plus innings and didn't give up a run to earn the victory.
A series of quality at-bats during the third and fourth innings allowed Pierson to crawl back into contention and some crafty base running finally drew them even. Trailing 5-0 in the third, Pierson loaded the bases with one out in part due an error at third by Port Jeff. After Schall went down on strikes, senior Joe Mascali ran the count to 3-2 before drawing a walk and pushing Crowley home for the first run. The real damage came an inning later when the Whalers plated four runs. The rally began in the 8-hole when junior Joe Dowling laced a single to left. One out later, Crowley and Miller also singled to load the bases with one out. Runners left on base plagued Pierson in the teams' last meeting at Mashashimuet Park, a gut-wrenching 6-5 Royal win. This time, the Whalers were spot on with the bats. Tyler Gilbride turned on a Brendan Duffy offering and sent it bounding down the third-base line, bringing in two. Kyle McGowin, who was on the hook for the loss at that point, helped himself out by driving the first pitch he saw back up the middle to bring in Miller. Gilbride was able to walk home when the throw home from center field sailed over the backstop.
"With our reputation, we haven't really come through with big hits but today we did," Casey Crowley said. "We still knew we had to have one more. That was the thing we had to stick to. We couldn't just lay down."
The equalizer came in the fifth. Dowling and Dane Riva each reached with singles, Dowling's fortunately bouncing off the third-base bag for a hit. Crowley rapped what looked like an inning-ending double-play ball to second; however, Crowley hustled down the line and just beat the relay throw from D'Auria to keep the inning alive. With two outs, Manager Crowley met with the two Whalers baserunners.
"My dad was telling me to steal and if threw through, I was going to stop," Casey Crowley said. "I guess I just forgot and ran through thinking that I would run through it and maybe get hit by it or create contact."
Junior Joe Dowling slaps five with Tyler Gilbride scoring the game-tying run on a throwing error by the Port Jeff catcher.
Instead, the throw from Esposito sailed wide of second and into center field, allowing Dowling to jaunt home to even things at six runs apiece. Their sixth inning production broke that tie and leaves the Whalers on the doorstep of the county title.
"The biggest pleasure is to be able to go up and down and be able to be here year after year," Coach Crowley said. "We're a small school so there's a cycle. It isn't over this year, but we certainly have nice players this year and we're in the finals. It's nice to be coming back around again."
PIERSON 8, PORT JEFFERSON 6
Suffolk County Class C championship, game 1; at Sag Harbor
PORT JEFFERSON 051 000 0 - 6 8 2
PIERSON 001 412 X - 8 9 1
PJ, Brendan Duffy and Chris Esposito; P, Kyle McGowin, Ed Schall (4) and Casey Crowley; WP - Schall; LP - Duffy. 2B - PJ, Mike D'Auria; P, Tyler Gilbride
Port Jefferson 10-12; Pierson 14-8
Game 2 at Port Jefferson, Thursday, 4 p.m.