Riverhead’s playoff hopes evaporate

Greg Zilnicki and his Riverhead teammates have been eliminated from playoff contention.

It was not going to be easy for the Riverhead High School baseball team to advance to the postseason.

In order to post a qualifying record of one game or better over .500, the Blue Waves would have had to sweep Smithtown West in the season’s final three-game series.

With two outs in the top of the seventh inning on Monday at Riverhead High School, the Blue Waves looked to have the first win in hand. One moment, they were up 2-1. The next, after losing pitcher Steve Kimmelman gave up a run-scoring single to Nick Zito, the score was tied at 2. The hit scored Nick Gatto, who had reached base on an error.

The error leading to a close loss fit a pattern that happened too many times for Coach Rob Maccone’s liking. By his count, they cost Riverhead (9-9 overall, 7-9 in Suffolk County League IV) four wins, more than enough to have made the playoffs.

An inning later, Riverhead was gone from playoff contention. With the bases loaded, Kimmelman walked Christian Randell to give the Bulls a 3-2 lead. The Blue Waves could not get the run back against Joe Fasanos, who picked up the complete-game victory for Smithtown West (13-5, 11-5).

That left the Blue Waves with two games to play, yesterday and today, before the season ends, to their minds, prematurely.

“It’s been up and down emotionally,” Maccone said of his first year as Riverhead’s head coach.

The month of May has been unkind to Riverhead. At the end of April, the Blue Waves’ League IV record stood at 6-3. They were tied with Half Hollow Hills West for second place in the league behind Smithtown West. Coming off a three-game sweep of Copiague, the Blue Waves needed to win just four of their last nine games in order to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

The month began with the kind of hard-luck loss the Blue Waves endured on Monday. In the first of three games against Half Hollow Hills West, the teams entered the ninth inning scoreless. The Blue Waves scored two runs in the top of the inning, but gave up three in the bottom of the inning on a bases-loaded walk sandwiched between two run-scoring singles.

“That kind of took the wind out of our sails,” Maccone said.

It did not help that the Blue Waves lost starting catcher Bryan Palermo to a broken right hand. An errant pitch from Kimmelman hit a Hills West batter and ricocheted off Palermo’s right hand. Later that evening, the Blue Waves found out Palermo would be out for the rest of the season.

“He did a lot of things for us,” Maccone said. “That hurt a lot.”

The situation snowballed from there, Maccone said. An earlier rainout forced the teams to play games on three consecutive days rather than having the normal day’s rest during a series that would have allowed Riverhead to regroup.

The Blue Waves never fully recovered as the Colts won the next two games by a combined score of 23-6. Riverhead followed that up by losing two of three games to Deer Park. That left the team needing to sweep Smithtown West to make the playoffs.

It didn’t happen.

“It was a fun ride,” Maccone said.

It was just not the ending he was looking for.