PORT JEFFERSON STATION — From the vantage point of the bleachers at Port Jefferson High School, the play could not have been any closer.
Ask a fan in the bleachers, along the field’s first-base line, who touched third base first, Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Ian Traynor or Port Jefferson’s Sean McGivney. The answer would differ by rooting interest.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the second inning of the Monarchs’ Suffolk County Class C-clinching victory last Thursday, Keith Schroeher hit a slow roller toward the hole between the shortstop and third base. Royals third baseman Billy Crowe started to his left to cut the ball off, but McGivney, coming off the mound, got to it first. With his momentum carrying him toward the third-base line, McGivney would not have been able to stop, spin and throw to first to get Schroeher out. Instead, he made a beeline for third base, and to the umpire’s vantage point, beat Traynor by a split second.
Monarchs Coach Ed Meier put his hands to his head in disbelief. He squatted down so far that he was nearly sitting on the ground, and it took him a moment to stand up again.
Some jawing at the umpire might have been expected, but a different atmosphere ruled at Port Jefferson. No fans were allowed at the Royals’ last home game of the regular season against Southold for fear of potential trouble. There was no noise this time. Meier trotted back to the dugout. And, in the stands, fans, regardless of their rooting interest, turned to each other.
“Heads-up play,” one said.
“That was close,” another commented.
Hearing that, yet another agreed that while it was close, it would be tough to tell from the bleachers.
Nobody booed or made a negative comment, and the play seemed all but forgotten by the time the Royals stepped to the plate in the bottom of the inning.
When McGann-Mercy’s Rocco Pascale hit a grand slam in the seventh to give the Monarchs a 7-4 lead, a Royals fan turned to Pascale’s father and congratulated him, saying, “He’ll remember that one for a long time.”
And when Crowe tied the score with a three-run blast in the bottom of the inning, the same fan said, “I’m getting too old for this.”
It was not the last time he said that, either.
By the top of the eighth inning, rally caps were on full display, and the crowd seemed to rise and fall as one with each crack of the bat.
And with each swing, the noise from the bleachers got louder, the din more deafening. When the Royals’ Chris Esposito stepped to the plate representing the possible winning run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, there were alternating yells of, “Let’s go, Espo!” and “Let’s go, J. C.!” for Monarchs pitcher Joe Crosser.
And when Crosser got Esposito to fly out to end the game, the fans stopped to marvel at the game they had just witnessed. It did not matter if they were talking to a fan of the other team, they just wanted to share the experience before the Monarchs’ fans went to congratulate their team and Royals fans to console theirs.