Baseball: Stepnoski perseveres, Pascale steals home, Monarchs are L.I.’s kings

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | From left, D. J. Willmott, Tom Kretz and Joe Crosser were jubilant after Bishop McGann-Mercy won the Long Island Class C title.

Right from the start, the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs made themselves comfortable and looked right at home even though Farmingdale State College is quite a distance away from their home field in Riverhead.

That frame of mind even extended to their uniforms. Although McGann-Mercy was officially the visiting team for the Long Island Class C baseball final on Sunday, the Monarchs wore their home whites instead of the traditional green ones they usually sport when they’re on the road. As catcher Rocco Pascale explained, the Monarchs won the League VIII championship in white and took the Suffolk County title in white as well. “So, from here on out, we’re white,” he explained.

White certainly seems to be McGann-Mercy’s color. Now the Monarchs can associate it with a Long Island championship.

With a gutty pitching effort from Pat Stepnoski and some daring base running by Pascale, the Monarchs captured the Long Island Class C crown at the expense of the Friends Academy Quakers, 5-2.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | In a daring play in the seventh inning, Bishop McGann-Mercy's Rocco Pascale stole home on a close play while Friends Academy catcher Alex Kucich applied a tag.

“It will be remembered with a banner on the wall,” Pascale said. “That’s what we wanted to do, make our mark.”

The Monarchs, who brought their record to 17-5, aren’t through in their pursuit of more titles and glory. They will play S.S. Seward Institute or Tuckahoe in the Southeast Region final on Tuesday at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.

“That was the key to our success today,” McGann-Mercy shortstop Keith Schroeher said. “We were very comfortable. We weren’t tense.”

If the Monarchs looked at ease on Sunday, it might have been because Pascale offered to smack any of his teammates in the back if they felt nervous. Or, it might have been because they had been here before. It was only last year in the Long Island final when they lost to Friends Academy, 7-2, on this same field.

This time, though, it was different. For one thing, they had Stepnoski’s determination in their corner. Despite tiring over the final two innings, the junior right-hander went the distance, hurling a five-hitter. He threw 99 pitches, striking out four and walking three. He also hit a couple of batters.

“I didn’t have my best stuff,” Stepnoski told reporters afterward. “I was struggling a little bit, but I managed to stay in the strike zone, and it was enough.”

Stepnoski, who was named the player of the game, didn’t concede a hit until Kyle Grady socked a two-out single to left in the fourth.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Pat Stepnoski said he didn't have his best stuff, yet he still threw a five-hitter.

“He battled out there for us,” said Ed Meier, whose career record as McGann-Mercy’s coach is 96-63 (.604).

Despite Stepnoski’s tenacity, this game may best be remembered for some adventurous base running by Pascale, of all people.

McGann-Mercy “stole” a run, in a manner of speaking, in the seventh. Pascale, who is better know for his hitting, showed his base-running ability. He led off with a walk, stole second base and alertly took third base on Tom Kretz’s groundout. Then, with Christian Lynch at the plate, Pascale broke early for home and stole home plate, giving the Monarchs a 5-1 lead. It was a close play, and Friends catcher Alex Kucich angrily argued that Pascale should have been called out.

“That was insane,” Stepnoski said, “and then I thought the catcher was going to fight the home-plate umpire. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Meier, who was serving as the third base coach, had noticed that Friends pitcher Sam Harrington was taking some time delivering the ball to the catcher. Then, with an 0-2 count on Lynch, the coach gave the word.

“He just said, ‘Go!’ and I took off,” Pascale said. “It was like a last-second thing.”

McGann-Mercy did most of its damage before then, though. The Monarchs went in front, 1-0, in the first. Back-to-back singles by Joe Crosser and Schroeher were later followed by a sacrifice fly from Stepnoski.

The Monarchs gave themselves some breathing room with a three-run second. Lynch led off by shooting a double to the left-center-field gap. Then D. J. Willmott produced a Texas League single. Lynch scored on the play when the ball bounced over right fielder Sam Hawkins. Later in the inning, John Dillon drove a run-scoring triple over the left fielder, Grady, and Crosser produced a sacrifice fly, making it 4-0.

Friends (5-14) pulled a run back in the sixth. A walk to Harrington, a wild pitch and a double by Kucich brought in the run.

What does the title mean to the Monarchs?

“It means everything,” Stepnoski answered. “We started this year with a goal to get here and maybe farther. It was miserable falling short last year. Losing last year killed us. I still haven’t forgotten about it. This kind of compensates for it a little bit.”

Meier has taken McGann-Mercy to three Long Island finals in eight years, losing the previous two. Asked if defeating Friends made it any sweeter, he replied, “Just winning this thing gets rid of some demons.”

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