Baseball: Wildcats rally for 4 runs in 7th for walk-off win

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Jonathan Criscito scores the game-winning run Wednesday against Bayport-Blue Point.
JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Jonathan Criscito scores the game-winning run Wednesday against Bayport-Blue Point.

Shoreham-Wading River senior Kevin Davis is no typical nine hitter. As a sophomore Davis batted lead-off and in the two-hole, a speedy player with good situational skills.

“He’s in the nine spot because the guys we have in the one and two spot, they’re All-County, All-State caliber players,” said Shoreham coach Sal Mignano.

Davis isn’t a power hitter, so batting ninth gives the Wildcats the effect of another lead-off hitter. And a veteran player to flip the lineup who’s used to pressure situations.

So with the Wildcats trailing by a run with two out in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s first-round Class A playoff game against No. 7 Bayport-Blue Point, Davis said he wasn’t nervous as he batted with his team’s season resting on his shoulders.

The second-seeded Wildcats (16-5) had already rallied for two runs in the inning as they faced a three-run deficit. With runners on first and second and facing a 3-2 pitch, Davis (3 for 4) ripped a single to center field to bring home the tying run. Lead-off hitter Ryan McAlary followed with a ground ball to third that went straight through the legs of Bayport’s third baseman and Jonathan Criscito scored the game-winning run as Shoreham escaped with 9-8 victory.

“When I saw the hit I thought it could be a close play,” Davis said. “But I saw it go into the gap a little bit so I knew he was going to score. I was pretty pumped up.”

A loss would have been disastrous for the Wildcats’ hopes of winning a county title. They would have faced the longest road back through the loser’s bracket — a nearly impossible task for having to win seven games in eight days. Including Wednesday’s game it would be eight games in nine days. Now it’ll be Bayport that tries to fight its was through as far as it can.

The Wildcats were far from their sharpest in their playoff opener. Starting pitcher Dan Sperruzzi was pulled in the third inning and the Wildcats committed three errors.

“There were places today we couldn’t find our way,” Mignano said.

But somehow, someway, they found a way to win.

“I said to them before the last inning, to win a championship you have to have a crazy win somehow,” Mignano said. “I guess we’ll take it now.”

The Wildcats got a big effort from junior Dan DeVito in relief. He ended up throwing four innings and came out in the seventh with runners on second and third and two out. With the Wildcats already trailing by two, Mignano called on McAlary — the team’s No. 3 starter — to pitch. His first pitch deflected off the catcher allowing the Phantoms to add on an insurance run.

It wasn’t enough, though.

In the bottom of the seventh cleanup hitter Matt Kneisel hit a two-run home run to left field with nobody out to bring the Wildcats back within a run.

“Kneisel’s hit brought some life to us,” Mignano said.

Kneisel isn’t the prototypical cleanup hitter in terms of being a slugger. His home run was his second of the year. As a team the Wildcats have 25 total. Mignano said he bats Kneisel fourth to give Nick Bottari has much protection as he can in the three spot.

“He’s not in that four spot to hit homers,” Mignano said. “He’s in that four spot to be the best hitter we have behind Bottari.”

When the Wildcats need a big blast, Kneisel delivered.

Following his home run, Mike O’Reilly (2 for 3, 2 RBIs) walked to put the tying run on base with no out. But the next two batters struck out, putting the pressure on Criscito. After falling behind 0-2, he fought back with a single through the right side to push the tying run into scoring position.

Davis came up expecting to see plenty of fastballs.

“I’m the nine hitter so no one is really going to fool around with me,” he said. “They probably don’t think I’m a good hitter.”

The Wildcats led 3-1 after two innings, but the Phantoms came back with three in the third. Shoreham went back ahead with two in the fourth with runs from Davis and McAlary. Bayport scored three in the sixth.

Shoreham advances to face No. 3 John Glenn, a 6-5 winner over Mount Sinai. That game will be back at Shoreham Friday.