BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Greg Meyer slid home for one of Riverhead’s runs.
Errors, the bane of baseball coaches and players alike, are part of the game. But that doesn’t mean a team that commits them can’t persevere.
The Half Hollow Hills West Colts provided evidence of that on Friday when they pulled away from the Riverhead Blue Waves, 14-6, in an error-filled game in Riverhead. In doing so, Hills West swept the three-game Suffolk County League IV series.
Anthony Cipoletti and James Barone both belted their first home runs of the season for the Colts (12-4, 12-4), who won their eighth straight game one day after clinching a playoff berth. Cipoletti, who went 3 for 3 and scored four runs, jumped on the first pitch he saw in the second inning for a solo shot to left field. Barone slugged a three-run homer as part of a five-run rally in the sixth.
The Colts also received three runs batted in from Matt Cabezon, whose two-run double in the fifth gave his side an 8-5 lead.
That kind of hitting helped Hills West overcome some shortcomings in the field. Considering the game involved two of the league’s better teams, it was something of a surprise that 10 errors were made, six by Hills West.
“It’s extremely frustrating because it’s a lack of focus,” Hills West Coach Tom Migliozzi said of the errors. “You understand the bad hop, but when you’re not ready for the ball to come to you and you boot one, it’s obviously frustrating, but that’s why you play the game. You’re not sure what’s going to happen.”
Barone, a junior shortstop, said mental toughness comes into play after a player commits an error. “Once you make an error, you have to focus on the next pitch,” he said. “You can’t keep it in your mind, otherwise you’re done; you’re done for the entire game.”
Both teams made two errors each in the first inning, which ended with Riverhead ahead, 3-1. All four of those runs were unearned.
And the errors continued. Hills West would have had more than six errors if not for an unusual play in the third. A fly ball hit by Riverhead’s Jordan Demchuk was dropped by the right fielder, Jon Lustberg. But Lustberg alertly picked up the ball and fired to Barone covering second base for an odd forceout. Score that 9-6.
“Hitting definitely saved us,” said Barone.
Hills West entered this season as one of the league favorites and, discounting Friday’s defensive deficiencies, has lived up to its reputation.
“Last year’s team was really good, but I think this year’s team is much better,” Barone said. “We play together cooperatively. We have better pitching, better defense, better hitting.”
How good is Hills West?
“I think there are the best teams around and there are the mediocre teams,” Migliozzi said. “I think we’re somewhere in between. I think if we put a good game together, we’re right around there.”
Sure, the Colts can hit, but what really separates Hills West from many other teams is its pitching. “When you look at this team, you look at the pitching,” said Migliozzi.
The ace of the pitching staff, T. J. Pecoraro, picked up the win on Friday, bringing his record to 4-2. In four innings of work, he gave up three earned runs, four hits and four walks. He struck out six.
Hills West also has capable pitching arms in the form of Mike Kaufman (4-1) and Brandon Jaffe (2-0).
“Pitching-wise, we always give a tough performance,” Migliozzi said. “If we keep the ball down, we’re in every game.”
These Colts can also run. They went 5 for 6 in stolen-base attempts on Friday, with two steals each by Mike Blumenthal and Barone.
The loss makes life a little more difficult for Riverhead (8-7, 6-7). The Blue Waves, who received two hits apiece from Greg Meyer and Greg Zilnicki, were left needing to win four of their final six games in order to qualify for the playoffs.
Riverhead had been relying on good pitching itself, particularly from Steve Kimmelman, who is 2-0 with a 1.62 earned run average and has 32 strikeouts in 26 innings. On the offensive end, Jon Tucci and Kimmelman have been getting the job done. Through Friday, Tucci had a .368 batting average with eight RBI and 12 runs scored. Kimmelman’s average stood at .341, to go with 13 RBI and seven runs scored.
But the Blue Waves suffered a blow when their versatile catcher, Bryan Palermo, broke his hand last Wednesday against Hills West. Palermo was struck by a pitch that had deflected off a Hills West batter.
“I think it was a devastating loss for Riverhead when they lost their catcher, Palermo, with that broken hand,” Migliozzi said. “That’s their number three hitter and probably their most explosive player.”