A record-breaking season for the Shoreham-Wading River baseball team came to an end Saturday in the Class A Long Island championship.
The Wildcats traveled to SUNY Westbury in pursuit of their first trip to the state final four in 30 years. In 1987, the Wildcats won the state championship behind future Major League Baseball player Keith Osik, who was a senior. There were plenty of parallels to that season as the Wildcats took the field against Wantagh with ace pitcher Brian Morrell on the mound. Morrell was 10-0 coming into the game and the Wildcats hadn’t lost a game since April 5, a streak of 20 consecutive wins, and were the top-ranked Class A team in the state.
But after just one inning, the Wildcats faced an unexpected uphill climb. The defending state champion Warriors struck for four runs against Morrell in the opening inning, a stunning start that the Wildcats could never fully bounce back from in a 4-2 defeat. The Wildcats closed the season with a 24-2 record. It was the most wins in program history.
“We ran into a good Wantagh team who scrapped and they exploded with a four-run first inning and that’s tough to come back from,” said Shoreham coach Kevin Willi. “It was a back-and-forth battle. We felt that we were right in it, a couple of times with runners on base but we just didn’t get the big hit when we needed it.”
The loss marks the end of Morrell’s high school career, one that will be remembered as one of the best in not only Shoreham history, but for all of Long Island. As a junior last year he was awarded the Carl Yastrzemski Award as the top player in the county. Based on his performance this year, he could become only the second player to ever repeat as winner. The all-county awards dinner is June 13.
The Warriors (22-5) struck early and fast against Morrell when John Joyce Jr. hit and RBI single to bring home Anthony D’Onofrio, who had doubled to start the rally. Starting pitcher Anthony Fontana, a lefty who earned the win, drilled a ball to the gap to score the next run. The Warriors loaded the bases and Morrell walked in a run to make it 3-0 — all before an out was recorded. A blooper off the bat of Charles Interrante made it a 4-0 game.
The Wildcats got on the board in the fourth with a two-run inning. With two runners on base, John Luppens ripped a ground ball scoring Morrell, who had reached on a walk. With two outs, Vincent Uzzi hit an opposite field single to score Tom Brady and trim the deficit in half. An outstanding play by D’Onofrio at shortstop to track down a shallow flyball in left field that prevented a possibly bigger inning for Shoreham.
Morrell held Wantagh scoreless for the final five innings, allowing just one more hit. Fontana pitched five innings for Wantagh before Brendan Haas, a senior, took over and completed the final two innings without giving up a run.
Wantagh will play Sutherland of Section V Friday in the state semifinals.
Looking back on the season, Willi said the team will remember its county championship.
“I wish we could’ve come home with a long Island Championship, but a county championship is a pretty good accomplishment especially with a best record in program history,” he said. “All 16 of our seniors were die-hard all year and they worked their tails off and these guys earned it.”
Photo captions: Shoreham second baseman Kyle Baylous fires to first base for an out. Alex Bettenhauser singles to left field. (Credit: Bill Landon)
WITH JOE WERKMEISTER