Third L.I. title makes a great birthday gift

The 2010 season came to an end for Joe Crosser and his Bishop McGann-Mercy teammates on Sunday.

FARMINGDALE — Happy birthday, Marshall Lindner. Happy Long Island championship, Friends Academy Quakers.

Lindner, the Friends Academy baseball coach, celebrated his 61st birthday in style on Sunday when the Quakers won their third Long Island title with a 7-2 defeat of the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs at Farmingdale State College.

A grand slam by Chris Crowley, his fourth home run of the season, and a five-hit complete game pitched by Sam Harrington propelled Friends to the victory in the Southeast Region Class C semifinal.

Now, how’s that as a gift for the coach who has everything?

Friends went on to lose to Valhalla, 6-5, in the regional final on Tuesday at Farmingdale State College.

Asked after the Long Island final if it was one of the best birthday presents he has ever received, the beaming Lindner replied: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

Lindner has been coaching for 38 years and is in his 27th year at Friends, which is in Locust Valley. He guided the Quakers to a state championship in 2004.

The Friends players were well aware that it was Lindner’s birthday.

“He likes to keep it quiet, though, that it’s his birthday since it’s his 61st, but it was all in the back of our heads, and it’s just a gift to him,” Harrington said. “He’s a legend.”

It was Crowley’s blast over the left-field fence with the bases loaded in the top of the third inning that gave Friends (9-13) a 5-1 lead and took some air out of McGann-Mercy’s bubble. Two walks and a single by Leo Gussack had preceded the big shot.

During a postgame interview, Crowley said he couldn’t remember running around the bases after the home run. “It still hasn’t sunk in,” he said.

McGann-Mercy Coach Ed Meier said, “That grand slam was as big as it gets.”

But some critical defensive plays before that may have changed the course of the game. The Friends infield turned double plays in both the first and second innings, the later with the bases loaded. First baseman Peter Kaplan, second baseman Chris Campbell, shortstop Alek Kucich and third baseman Shon Butani were involved in one or both of them.

“Those double plays were huge,” said Crowley.

Harrington, who picked up his seventh win in eight decisions, could appreciate that kind of support. The junior right-hander, who noted that his team’s two-week layoff before the game wasn’t helpful, walked seven and struck out three.

One batter Harrington may have preferred not to see was Connor Stepnoski, one of McGann-Mercy’s five seniors playing in their last high school game. Stepnoski, who went 3 for 4, singled in both runs for the Monarchs (14-7).

“It was very disappointing,” Stepnoski said of the loss. “I wanted to win really bad but, whatever, we had a good season.”

After Stepnoski’s first run batted in, Friends strung together the next seven runs.

Kaplan’s one-out triple off the fence in right-center field set up the first Friends run in the second. Two batters later, Kaplan was brought home on a base hit by Kucich.

Bolstered by Crowley’s grand slam, Friends tacked on two more insurance runs in the fourth, when it banged out four of its 10 hits, all singles by Kucich, Travis Hefele, Campbell and Harrington.

Gussack and Kucich finished the game with two hits apiece.

After Harrington fielded a chopper on the second bounce off Tom Tenaglia’s bat and tossed the ball to Butani at first for the game’s final out, he embraced his catcher, Crowley. Then they were both knocked over by celebrating teammates who formed a happy pile in front of the pitcher’s mound.

“I was at the bottom of the pile,” Crowley said. “I was getting cleated, but I didn’t feel the pain. I was just overjoyed.”

Because the game involved the champions of Nassau and Suffolk counties, it meant more than a regional semifinal to Lindner, who cherishes his Long Island roots.

“The Long Island game is special,” he said. “I know on one level it’s the regional semifinal, but because of who we are and growing up on Long Island, it’s something special … The Long Island championship, I believe, is always a celebration of Long Island baseball. I love it.”

Not a bad way to spend a birthday.