CLASS A PLAYOFFS | WILDCATS 7, HURRICANES 2
Through five innings Wednesday, the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats were still searching for their first hit, locked into a pitcher’s duel against Westhampton in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
Sixteen players had to come to bat for the Wildcats and only one reached base on a walk.
“It was very frustrating,” said third baseman Matt Fox.
As left fielder Mike Keller stepped to the plate to the lead off the sixth in a scoreless game in Westhampton Beach, it became apparent that one run might be all it takes for a team to advance. Keller singled through the left side on the first pitch he saw from Westhampton pitcher Jake Bramwell and suddenly the Wildcats were in business.
A sacrifice bunt moved Keller to second, bringing up Fox, the leadoff hitter. On a full count, Fox ripped a double to left field to score the first run of the game.
“I was just trying to wait for my pitch,” Fox said. “I had one and I fouled it off straight back. I didn’t think I was going to get it again. Then two pitches later I got it and I squared it off.”
Fox’s run-scoring hit was just the beginning. In the seventh inning, after Westhampton went to the bullpen, Shoreham erupted for six more runs to eventually run away with a 7-2 victory that sends the Wildcats into a best-of-three series against John Glenn. That semifinals series begins in Elwood on Friday with Game 2 scheduled back in Shoreham Saturday.
Sophomore Brian Morrell earned the win Wednesday, pitching 6+ innings and giving up both runs. He was dominant to start the game, locating his fastball for strikes early. He finished with 11 strikeouts.
“I felt great, especially toward the third, fourth inning,” Morrell said. “The last couple innings I felt a little gassed.”
With a comfortable 7-0 lead, Morrell took the mound in the seventh even as he approached 100 pitches. The first four runners reached against Morrell, prompting Shoreham coach Kevin Willi to go the bullpen and bring in Zach White.
He got a double play on the first batter he faced to quickly get the Wildcats (12-8) out of trouble.
Willi said it wasn’t too difficult a decision to go with Morrell for Game 1 of the playoffs.
“I believe he’s improved every start this year,” Willi said. “Especially the second half of the season, he’s been very good. I have confidence in the other pitchers too, but Brian I think is one of those shutdown pitchers.”
Morrell got into trouble in the fourth after giving up a leadoff double. But he came back to get the next three batters, including strikeouts for the final two outs.
After Shoreham had taken a 1-0 lead, Westhampton (16-5) nearly came back in the bottom half of the inning. The first two runners reached, including speedster Dan McEvoy. With runners on first and second, McEvoy attempted to steal third and was thrown out by Shoreham catcher Chris Sperruzzi. McEvoy reached the base in time, but slid past the bag and Fox applied the tag to get the crucial out.
The baserunning blunder changed the entire complexion of the inning and allowed the Wildcats to maintain the one-run advantage.
Willi said one constant in the scouting report on Westhampton was to keep McEvoy off the bases.
“That was the line, pretty much word-for-word from everybody,” Willi said. “He’s an electric kind of kid. To get him out in that big spot was good for the momentum of the game.”
The Wildcats pounded out seven hits in the seventh inning to finally blow the game open.
“It’s always a great feeling when your offense steps up,” Morrell said.
Fox added an RBI single in the seventh to finish 2-for-4 in the game.
Willi said Fox had gotten into a slump late in the season.
“Today he got back to his old ways and it was really good to see that,” Willi said. “Matt has been very clutch last year and this year.”
Keller had a two-run double in the seventh as well to finish 2-for-3 in the game. He and Fox were the only Wildcats with multiple hits. Second baseman Tom Brady and designated hitter Dalton Stalzer both had RBI hits. Morrell drove in a run on a sacrifice fly.
The fifth-seeded Wildcats will now head to John Glenn to face a team that had their number early in the year. The Knights swept a three-game series from Shoreham already.
“They played very well and we made the most errors that series,” Willi said. “That hurt us a lot. I’m looking to go back and give it our best.”
Willi will decide between either John Montesano or Fox to pitch the first game Friday.