CLASS A PLAYOFFS | PHANTOMS 4, WILDCATS 2
The ball sailed high down the right field line off the bat of Bayport-Blue Point left fielder Jack Piekos, drifting closer and closer toward foul territory. The long shot, pulled down the line by the lefty Piekos, cleared the fence, leaving only one question in doubt: foul or fair?
As Piekos reached first base, the umpire raised his right arm, swung around his index finger signaling home run, much to the chagrin of those watching along the right field line.
Three batters into Wednesday’s Class A playoff game, the top-seeded Wildcats suddenly found themselves in a 3-0 hole against one of the top pitchers in the county in Mike Farley.
After coming back from a four-run hole in their playoff opener against Rocky Point, the Wildcats couldn’t muster another rally, falling 4-2 at home. The loss drops Shoreham into the loser’s bracket, where the Wildcats (17-5) will face Sayville at home Friday with their season on the line.
The three-run home run by Piekos proved to be all the offense No. 2 Bayport (18-4) needed with Farley on the mound. The Bayport junior gave up four hits and struck out 11 to improve to 9-0 this season.
Shoreham coach Sal Mignano said he didn’t have a clear view of the home run to say for sure that it was foul.
“You’re down three right away, it’s tough to rebound from,” Mignano said. “They’re the umpires, they make the call and we play the game.”
The Wildcats got a run back right away in the bottom of the inning when sophomore Nick Bottari hit an opposite field home run to right field. But the Phantoms got a run back in the second inning to push the lead back to three.
After Shoreham scored a run in the third on an RBI single by Dan Luppens, both pitchers became nearly unhittable.
Senior Mike O’Reilly pitched a superb game after giving up the questionable home run. He gave up only four hits while striking out 12.
“He pitched more than well enough to win,” Mignano said.
O’Reilly struggled against Rocky Point in the playoff opener as he dealt with a recent ankle injury. But he was much sharper against the Phantoms. He had a dominant fastball and was locating his breaking pitch much better.
“It was definitely a major difference,” Mignano said.
O’Reilly lost for only the second time this season and for his career. Both losses have come against Farley, who also out-dueled O’Reilly in a 1-0 league game earlier this season. The Wildcats are 2-3 against Bayport this season.
Mignano said they were confident coming into the game that Farley couldn’t dominate to the level he did against them the first time around.
“Still, giving up two runs, he pitched a good game,” he said.
The Wildcats won a come-from-behind thriller in the bottom of the seventh last year against Bayport in the playoffs. But to start the seventh this time the Wildcats had the bottom of order due up, making the task that much harder.
Mignano said he had his batters take a strike in the seventh, hoping to get a runner on any way possible.
“We were making him throw strikes,” Mignano said. “He threw a surprising 3-2 curve [against Drew Sperruzzi] with nobody out.”
Farley got the strikeout on Sperruzzi and retired the next two batters to not allow the Wildcats to flip the lineup over.
The Wildcats played a strong all-around game defensively, including a few highlight plays.
In the fifth inning third baseman Dan DeVito charged in on a bunt, made a bare-handed pickup and fired a bullet to first base to get the leadoff batter. The next batter hit a lined shot into right field that Luppens charged and threw to first base for an out, a rare 9-3 putout.
Luppens outdid himself on the next play when he made a leaping grab in foul territory on a fly ball, got his foot caught in the fence and flipped over, smashing into the ground and popping out his left shoulder.
Luppens remained in right field as the Wildcats came into the dugout and Bayport took the field for the next inning. After a brief delay as Luppens was being attended to, Mignano walked back toward the dugout and told Sean Logan to get ready to replace Luppens.
Only a few minutes later, Luppens came running down the line to rejoin his teammates in the dugout.
“Popped it back in,” Luppens told a surprised Mignano as he darted past him.
Luppens remained in the game and lined out to left in his next at-bat.
“I haven’t had a kid whose shoulder popped out, went back in and felt good enough to come back to play,” Mignano said. “An amazing, amazing catch.”
If the Wildcats can win Friday against the Golden Flashes, who won 4-0 against Mount Sinai Wednesday, the Wildcats would have a rematch with Bayport. The Wildcats would need to win twice against the Phantoms to secure a second straight county title.
Shoreham will turn to DeVito against Sayville. A win would allow for O’Reilly to come back the next game on full rest.