You gotta believe.
At least that’s what they say. Sometimes it’s tough for a baseball team to believe, especially when hits have been tough to come by against a tough pitcher like Andrew Lenski.
So, when the Riverhead Little League All Stars 11-12-year-old team entered the sixth and final inning facing a 2-0 deficit and only one hit to their credit, it couldn’t have been easy to be optimistic.
“We needed a miracle to win, and then we got that miracle,” said Riverhead catcher David Raynor.
Raynor was the supplier of said miracle. It was Raynor’s walk-off hit — a two-run single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth — that toppled Plainview, 3-2, in dramatic fashion Wednesday night, sending Riverhead to the state tournament of the Little League World Series Tournament for the first time.
“There’s no words,” Riverhead coach Mike Mowdy said after the triumph at Plainview-Old Bethpage Community Park gave his team the Section 4 East championship. “It’s incredible. This is what this team does. They find a way.”
The pressure was on.
Lenski was tough on the mound, allowing Riverhead (10-0) only three hits before being pulled with two outs in the sixth. After pinch hitter Daniel Buday led off by working a full-count walk, Mike Mowdy, the coach’s son, bounced a single through the middle. Runners were on first and second after a fielder’s choice, and Dufour legged out an infield single to score Mowdy. That was when Lenski reached the 85-pitch limit and was removed for James D’Alessandro, who found himself in a pressure situation with runners at the corners.
It was Raynor’s turn at bat. What was he thinking?
“If I choke, then I’m going to be really mad, but then if I don’t choke, then it’s going to be really good,” he said.
It was really good for Raynor, who took a 2-and-0 fastball to rightfield, bringing home pinch runner Mark Gajowski and Dufour.
“David Raynor is the best,” Coach Mowdy said. “He battles. I think he’s one of the best catchers I’ve seen in this tournament, if not the best catcher. He’s batting fifth for a reason. He always has quality at-bats for us. He grinds them out. He’s tremendous.”
Riverhead’s bench stormed the field in celebration.
“I don’t think my foot hit the dirt the whole time,” Coach Mowdy said. “What can you say about it? It was pure joy.”
Riverhead advances to the state tournament that will be held July 24-30 in the Bronx.
“It means a lot,” Dufour said. “We’re the first Riverhead team to go to the states, and it’s just cool.”
Riverhead was designated the home team by a coin flip.
Plainview (6-2) put up a run in each of the first two innings, with James D’Alessandro banging an RBI single and Seth Popkin smashing a bad-hop single off third baseman Forest Kaplan for the second run.
What Riverhead has accomplished so far is unprecedented, first winning a District 36 championship and now a Section 4 East title. The team has never advanced this far before, said Riverhead Little League president Jeremy Savio.
“The kids feel they belong here, and they do belong here,” said Coach Mowdy.
The younger Mowdy pitched the entire game, allowing five hits and a walk against five strikeouts.
Coach Ari Wind’s Plainview team presented quite a challenge. Riverhead had handed Plainview its first loss in the double-elimination tournament as well, 5-2.
“That’s the best-hitting team I’ve ever seen,” Coach Mowdy said. “To keep them down to two runs in two consecutive games is really remarkable.”
The season after the season has been almost as long as the regular season itself. Following a 12-game regular season, Riverhead played its 10th game of the Little League World Series Tournament, which ultimately ends in Williamsport, Pa. With each baseball game, the pressure mounts.
“When I look back at it,” Coach Mowdy said, “I’m going to say it was a great time, but it is nerve-wracking to say the least. It is a lot of fun.
“It’s obviously something that they’ll remember for the rest of their life.”
Photo caption: Riverhead players and coaches celebrate the team’s Section 4 East championship following David Raynor’s two-out, two-run, walk-off single. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)