They looked at more called third strikes than they would have liked, but now the Riverhead Little League All Stars are looking at the real possibility of playing in the state tournament for the Little League World Series.
Riverhead’s entry in the 11-12-year-old age group is one win away from making that a reality.
“I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little bit surprised [at] how well they have handled pressure,” coach Mike Mowdy said. “I know they have the ability to play with anybody.”
That includes Plainview, last year’s state champion.
Despite striking out 14 times (10 times looking), Riverhead cranked out big hits when they needed them and handed Plainview a 5-2 defeat Sunday at the North Shore Little League Complex in Rocky Point.
“We’re making history, boys!” a joyous Mowdy, who believes this is the furthest Riverhead has ever advanced in the tournament, told his players afterward. “We’re making history!”
The victory brings Riverhead multiple benefits. In addition to buying Riverhead a couple of extra days of rest, their top two pitchers, K.J. Duff and Mike Mowdy, the coach’s son by the same name, should be available. In this double-elimination phase, Riverhead will face the winner of Monday’s Plainview-West Islip game on Wednesday in East Meadow. If Riverhead (9-0) doesn’t win that game, they would have another chance in a winner-take-all game for the Section 4 East championship.
Mowdy’s two-run home run off a 2-and-2 fastball with two outs in the fourth inning snapped a 2-2 tie. It was the first homer of the tournament for Mowdy (2-for-3, two runs), who clubbed 10 during the regular season. He was mobbed by happy teammates at home plate.
Riverhead spotted itself a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but they could have scored more. A leadoff walk by Duff was followed by successive singles by Mowdy, Connor Saville and Noah Dufour (2-for-3) for the first run. The second one scored on a David Raynor walk.
Sebastian Lippman evaded further damage by striking out the next three batters looking. Riverhead failed to break the game open early and feared that failure would come back to bite them.
It did, partially.
Plainview (5-1) immediately pulled a run back when Ryan Tucci liked the first pitch he saw in the second and slugged a homer to centerfield. In the third, Andrew Lenki’s double off the leftfield fence set up James D’Alessandro’s RBI groundout to tie it at 2-2.
D’Alessandro came on in relief in the fourth and struck out his first two batters before Duff sent a sharp single to center. That preceded Mowdy’s big shot.
Riverhead received an insurance run in the fifth thanks to some help from the bench. Dufour led off by ripping a first-pitch triple that landed near the rightfield line. One out later, Daniel Buday was brought on as a pinch hitter.
“Well, I knew that I wasn’t going to get up again, and so I was trying to make the most of it, trying to get on base,” said Buday.
What Buday got was the biggest hit of his young life, knocking an RBI single to left.
“I told these kids that we are a 14-man team,” said Mowdy, who presented Buday with the game ball. “We can’t win without contributions from all 14. Daniel Buday is a perfect example of that. He has such a great attitude. Every game he comes to play. He has a smile on his face. When I put him in, he’s always ready.”
Meanwhile, Saville did a masterful job, pitching all six innings. The 5-10 righthander gave up six hits, one walk and struck out four. He was economical, throwing 65 pitches. That included a 21-pitch first in which he escaped a bases-loaded jam.
“I wasn’t worried,” Saville said. “I was confident throughout the whole game that we were going to win. We feel great that we can compete with these other teams.”
Beating a team of Plainview’s stature has to be good for Riverhead’s morale. “If we can beat them, then we can beat anybody,” reasoned Buday.
Saville had one parting thought: “We’re coming for Chinese Taipei.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Mike Mowdy, center, is congratulated on his tie-breaking home run by Aidan Cahill, left, and Luke Pilon (9). (Credit: Bob Liepa)