WILDCATS 3, PHANTOMS 2 (8 INNINGS)
When Bayport-Blue Point and Shoreham-Wading River play, fans of exciting high school baseball may want to settle comfortably into their seats. They’re going to be there for a while.
Judging be recent history, it will undoubtedly be worth the wait.
Drama. Emotion. A little controversy. Plenty of excitement. The regular-season finale between the two teams on Saturday had it all.
John Montesano’s walk-off single in the eighth inning brought Shoreham a thrilling 3-2 triumph at the Medford Athletic Complex and outright possession of the Suffolk County League VII championship. It is the 13th league title for the Wildcats (16-3-1, 12-3), who hope that with it will come the No. 1 seed in the county Class A tournament. The seeding committee will meet on Monday.
The Wildcats overcame defending New York State Class A champion Bayport-Blue Point (14-6, 10-5), which was seeking its 12th league title and ninth since 2000, according to coach Jim Moccio. A Bayport win would have made the Phantoms and the Wildcats co-champions.
“It’s crazy,” Shoreham third baseman Tyler Osik said. “I mean, this whole series has been crazy, and this game was just awesome.”
The game was typical of an incredible series between the two rivals. ESPN would have judged it an instant classic. All three games of the series were one-run affairs decided in extra innings. In the first two games, the Wildcats prevailed, 1-0, in 13 innings, and the Phantoms were 8-7 winners in eight innings. Saturday’s game raised the tally to 29 innings in three games.
“If someone didn’t see it, they missed out,” Wildcats coach Sal Mignano said. “I wish I had full video of all three games.”
To pull out Saturday’s game, the Wildcats had to face one of the top pitchers in the county, Jack Piekos, who came in relief to pitch the eighth. The University of Maryland-bound Piekos had thrown nine shutout innings and registered 17 strikeouts against the Wildcats just three days earlier.
The first batter Piekos faced on Saturday, Osik, reached base on a questionable call. Osik chopped a ball that the third baseman, Dylan Rooney, made a clean barehanded grab of before throwing to first base. It was ruled, however, that the first baseman, P. J. Weeks, was off the bag, and Osik was on. Moccio spoke to the umpire about the call, which stood.
One strikeout later, Matt Fox clubbed a double. Osik had thoughts about scoring on the play and by the time he reconsidered, it was too late. He gave himself up in a rundown near home plate, but took exception to the tag applied by catcher Dan Campanelli and words were exchanged. The players were separated. Fox had made his way to third base on the play.
After the umpire issued a warning to Osik, Montesano stepped up to the plate. “I was worried I was going to get hit by a pitch,” he said, referring to the stir before his at-bat. Montesano looked for a fastball and he found one, delivering a well-struck shot to left field. Moments later, the Wildcats were piling on top of each other on the infield. Montesano was at the bottom of that pile.
“I was trying to breathe — way at the bottom,” Montesano said after the first walk-off hit of his career. “The best scare of my life right there.”
With the Wildcats trailing by 2-1, Fox did a nice job of handling an inside pitch for his third home run of the season, tying it in the sixth.
Bayport had struck first with a two-out rally for two runs in the third. Alex Dura singled in a run and Jake Liberatore doubled in another.
Brian Morrell sliced that deficit in half, however, by smashing a home run in Shoreham’s half of the third.
One of the more memorable defensive plays was one by Shoreham catcher Jack Massa that saved a run in the eighth. Bayport had runners on first and third when Campanelli bunted to try to squeeze Matt McKinnon home. Massa quickly fielded the ball and then lunged for the tag at home plate. “A tremendous play,” said Mignano.
The next batter, Rooney, singled, but pinch runner Sal Geraci was caught in a rundown for the third out.
Montesano (2-0) got the win, pitching two and two-third innings of relief during which he gave up three hits.
It was a home game for the Wildcats. Because of the muddy field in Shoreham, the game was postponed a day and moved to a Medford Athletic Complex field that has a field-turf infield and a grass outfield.
The Wildcats weren’t as concerned with the venue so much as the final result. “We just love winning,” said Fox.
The Wildcats may very well meet Bayport again in the playoffs. The Wildcats have a remarkable playoff record, reaching the postseason for the 29th straight year and for the 30th time in 31 years. “That’s the one that we’re most proud of,” said Mignano.
But here’s another record to be proud of: 13 league championships.