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Baseball: Riverhead’s Chandler saves the day

The way this D.J. responded to a high-pressure situation and the result it brought was music to Riverhead’s ears.

The way the seventh inning of Tuesday’s Suffolk County League III baseball game at the Pulaski Sports Complex in Riverhead started was hardly what D.J. Chandler wanted. Trying to preserve a 7-6 lead, Riverhead’s relief pitcher gave up a first-pitch single to Bay Shore’s Jacob Lacetera and walked Dalton Cozzetti before a double steal left two runners in scoring position and none out.

“It got a little scary,” said Riverhead designated hitter Scott Thompson.

That’s when Chandler went about putting together an improbable escape act. The senior lefthander caught Ryan Brewer looking at a low pitch that was a called third strike, a decision that infuriated the Bay Shore side and led to Brewer being ejected after he vocalized his displeasure.

Chandler then intentionally walked Gerson Manueles to load the bases. Pinch runner Joseph Trifoli tried to steal home but was tagged out by catcher Chris Jehle. The next pitch was a game-ending called third strike on Jack Pirkl. Jehle joyously tossed his glove in the air before celebrating with his teammates. Riverhead (2-7, 2-7) snapped a four-game losing streak and picked up a much-needed win in the opener of the three-game set.

“It’s a momentum-swinger, I think,” Thompson (2-for-2, run, RBI, double, walk) said. “It’s one that could help us change the course of our season.”

Chandler got the save, a save that may ultimately save Riverhead’s season.

“Darnell did a great job,” Riverhead coach Rob Maccone said. “He had a runner on third, one out, and he got out of the inning. It worked out.”

This young season hasn’t been kind to Riverhead, which lost four games to highly regarded Smithtown East, winner of its first eight games. “Our record doesn’t show how we are,” said Maccone.

Both teams had to contend with difficult weather conditions as much as each other Tuesday. The temperature was in the mid-40s, but that was deceptive. It was bitterly cold, with biting wind gusts blowing in from leftfield under a gloomy, overcast sky.

“I was so happy that I got to DH today because, to be honest, I felt so bad for those guys on the field because even sitting on the bench inside that dugout, I was freezing,” said Thompson.

Riverhead never trailed, opening the scoring by putting up five runs in the second inning from a two-run single by Nick Dejewski, a two-run triple slugged by Chandler and a Ryan Lull sacrifice fly.

Bay Shore (5-4, 5-4) cut that lead to two runs with a three-run burst in the fourth.

RBI singles by Andrew Gallo and Thompson in the bottom half of the inning gave Riverhead more breathing room at 7-3. An additional run might have scored. Gallo followed Tommy Powers home on Thompson’s run-scoring hit, but it was ruled that Gallo never touched third base and he was called out, ending the inning.

Persistent Bay Shore wasn’t done, though. The Marauders struck for another three runs in the fifth. Joshuel Rodriguez was hit by a pitch for the second time (this time with the bases loaded), Lacetera supplied a sacrifice fly and Jared West scored on a wild pitch, closing the gap to 7-6.

The pressure was on Riverhead and Chandler, who took over the pitching after Gallo and Jared Polak. Chandler threw two scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

“When you’re 1 and 7 and you’re struggling, it’s very easy to go through the motions … but these guys wanted to win,” said Maccone.

“It’s a relief,” Thompson said. “I hope that this shows that we have the ability to close games out.

“I saw that people are showing that they care. I think the problem through the first week or two of the season was we didn’t have enough people looking like they were invested in the team and really caring, and I think that today, a nail-biting win and finally being able to pull it out brought out the passion and fire because I don’t think these guys are just playing baseball just to play baseball. You have to like the game to want to play it this long.”

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Photo caption: D.J. Chandler pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts in picking up the save for Riverhead. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)