CLASS A SEMIFINALS, GAME 3 | WILDCATS 5, KNIGHTS 1
As the No. 5 seed in the Class A Tournament, Shoreham-Wading River faced a longer road through the postseason than the League VI and VII champions, which received automatic byes into the semifinals.
On the surface, the higher seed had the better positioning. By playing that extra game, however, the Wildcats found themselves on the better end of a pitching matchup when they took the field against No. 1 John Glenn Tuesday in the decisive third game of the semifinal series.
At stake: a trip to the county finals.
The Wildcats turned to sophomore Brian Morrell, who had already pitched the Wildcats to victory in the playoff opener against Westhampton. The Knights, after throwing each of their top three pitchers in the first two games of the series, countered with right-handed Matt Czeczotka.
“I was really looking to get to Game 3,” said Shoreham coach Kevin Willi.
Behind another strong outing from Morrell, some clutch hits throughout the lineup and steady play in the field, the Wildcats emerged 5-1 winners on the road to take the series in three.
“After that win Saturday [in Game 2] I was so happy I got to pitch one more time,” Morrell said.
The win sends the Wildcats back into the county finals where they’ll meet two-time defending state champion Bayport-Blue Point. The Phantoms, winners in three games over No. 2 Comsewogue, host Game 1 of the finals Thursday.
Last year, the Phantoms won consecutive games against the Wildcats in the postseason to clinch the county title.
Shoreham will be vying for its first county title since winning back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.
Morrell gave up eight hits, struck out eight and walked two in Tuesday’s win.
“The first inning I was a little shaky,” Morrell said. “I came through after that first inning and gained confidence in my pitches.”
Morrell relied more on his off-speed pitches to counter a Glenn lineup that was eager to hit the ball opposite field.
“What I’ve seen from John Glenn in the six games we’ve played now is they like to go the other way,” Willi said. “They’re sitting back and trying to hit line drives the other way. A lot of Brian’s fastballs were in on guys and then soft stuff away. I think it was pretty effective for him.”
Morrell seemed to get better as the game wore on. The Knights lone run came in the first inning. The Wildcats turned double plays in the third and sixth innings behind shortstop Brandon Bottari to help Morrell along.
The Wildcats opened the game up in the fourth inning with three runs to go ahead 4-1. The Wildcats got three consecutive run scoring hits from the last three batters in the order, catcher Chris Sperruzzi, left fielder Mike Keller and center fielder Alex Bettenhauser.
Keller had a huge day, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles. The Wildcats hit five doubles in the game, including two from Morrell.
“In these playoffs, there’s been different guys getting big hits here and there,” Willi said. “It’s not just one go-to guy.”
Keller’s been on a tear so far this postseason. He had two runs batted in against Westhampton and homered in Game 2 against John Glenn Saturday.
“These last few games I’ve been hitting really well,” Keller said.
Willi said he first coached Keller on the JV. Back then, he was an infielder.
“Now he’s one of our best outfielders,” Willi said. “He just really turned it on this year. I’m really proud of him because he’s developed into an awesome player.”
The Knights made their share of mistakes in the field, which helped contribue to a couple Shoreham runs. The Wildcats scored an unearned run in the fifth on a dropped fly ball in the outfield that made it 5-1.
With Morrell grooving through Glenn’s lineup, the Wildcats never looked back. Morrell had thrown 81 pitches after six innings, leaving him plenty in the tank for the final three outs.
In the sixth inning, with the Wildcats ahead by four runs and two runners on, the Knights brought in lefty Tyler Arella, who shut out the Wildcats in Game 1. On three days rest, Arella kept the Wildcats scoreless for 1 2/3 innings, but the damage had already been done.
In the three-game series, Shoreham’s pitchers allowed a total of four runs. The Wildcats will need similar pitching in the next series. The Phantoms scored 21 runs against Shoreham in three games in the regular season, winning each game.
“We’re a better team than we were then,” Keller said.