CENTER MORICHES — For someone who was arguably the player of the game, Dan Lemmen spoke rather matter of factly about his day, which included two fantastic catches in the outfield and a walk-off hit for the Center Moriches Red Devils. Then again, perhaps it paled in comparison to what his baseball team had done the day before.
For the second day in a row, Lemmen delivered a game-winning hit to give the Red Devils a one-run victory over the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs last Thursday. This time it was an infield single with one out in the eighth inning by Lemmen that allowed Jeff Foster to score from third base, bringing Center Moriches a 3-2 triumph in the final regular-season game for both playoff-bound teams.
“I was just looking for a fastball to get a hold of and got one,” said Lemmen.
It was only the day before when a run-scoring double by Lemmen gave Center Moriches a 5-4 win that clinched a third straight Suffolk County League VIII championship for the Red Devils (12-6, 12-3). This year, however, Center Moriches won the league title outright. In the previous two years, it had to share it with other teams. The Red Devils prefer a title they can call their own.
“Yeah, it makes a difference,” Center Moriches Coach Mike Garofola said. “It’s nice to share a title, but it’s a heck of a lot nicer to win it outright.”
Then there was last Thursday’s game, a contest with no significance in terms of league titles or playoffs. But it was Senior Day at Center Moriches High School, and possibly the final game on this field for the Red Devils’ 10 seniors, who were recognized in a pregame ceremony. Garofola penned an all-senior starting lineup, and one of those seniors, Lemmen, rose to the occasion.
Lemmen made two outstanding catches in left field. He saved a run in the fifth inning when, with a runner on second base, he chased down a fly ball hit by Keith Schroeher while racing back and to his left at full speed. Then, in the sixth, he ran in for a nifty sliding catch of a pop-up by Pat Stepnoski.
Center Moriches nearly won it in the seventh when it loaded the bases for pinch hitter Sonny Saguto. Saguto made good contact on an Al Yakabowski pitch, but drove a liner right at third baseman Chris Sachalk for the third out.
After McGann-Mercy (12-6, 9-6) went down in order in the eighth, Center Moriches went to work. Foster started things with a one-out double, and then moved to third on Dylan Simpson’s single. That set the stage for Lemmen’s decisive hit, a grounder to the shortstop, Schroeher. By the time Schroeher got the ball in his glove, it was too late for him to do anything with it; Foster was just about home.
“Don’t forget the two catches he made in left field,” Garofola said of Lemmen. “They saved the game. Those two catches were just phenomenal catches. You can’t ask for a kid to do more in a day, to make two fantastic catches in the field and then come through with the game-winning hit.”
Another one of the Center Moriches seniors, Dan Pelosi, a regular starter, came off the bench to hook a solo homer inside the left-field foul pole in the fifth for a 2-1 lead. It was his first home run of the season.
That was one of the few mistakes by Yakabowski, who didn’t get a decision, but pitched well enough to win. The lefty lasted seven innings, striking out nine. He gave up three hits and six walks.
“They’re a really good team,” Yakabowski said. “They hit the ball very well. If you make a mistake, they’ll capitalize off it.”
McGann-Mercy tied it at 2-2 in the sixth when Tom Tenaglia and Sachalk singled before Rocco Pascale reached base on a fielder’s choice.
It was on that play when the Center Moriches third baseman, Simpson, chipped a tooth in a collision with Tenaglia and fell to the ground. He remained in the game, though. Then a throwing error on a grounder by the next batter, Yakabowski, allowed Tenaglia to score.
Tenaglia had two hits, including an infield single that brought in the game’s first run in the first.
McGann-Mercy Coach Ed Meier said the series with Center Moriches was good preparation for his team’s best-of-three series with the Port Jefferson Royals in the Suffolk Class C finals, which was to start yesterday in Riverhead.
“We’re ready to play some playoff baseball,” Meier said. “It’s the same game, there’s just a lot more pressure. We’ll see who handles it better.”
Center Moriches didn’t know if last Thursday’s game would be the last one this year on its spacious home field. If it is the last game, at least the Red Devils can take away good memories of it.
As for the significance of it, the low-key Lemmen said, “Just another game, you know.”