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Baseball: SWR pitchers keep their cool

Cullen SantaMaria’s cap fell off his head time after time while delivering a pitch. The important thing, though, was the Shoreham-Wading River pitcher never lost his head.

SantaMaria was able to extricate himself from trouble at times, and the same could be said for his relief, Blake Osness. The two juniors persevered under pressure, steering SWR to a 4-2 victory over Elwood/John Glenn in Wednesday’s Suffolk County League VII baseball game.

“You just got to bear down, you know, sometimes,” Osness said after striking out the last two batters with the bases loaded and racing off the pitcher’s mound to celebrate with teammates at Kevin Williams Memorial Field in Shoreham.

And that’s what both pitchers did in their own way as Glenn stranded 10 baserunners while hitting 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

SantaMaria, a righthander making his first start of the season, said his long hair is to blame for his cap falling off his head while pitching. Does it bother him? No. He’s used to it by now, he said.

It certainly didn’t seem to bother him. SantaMaria showed a knack for buckling down when the heat was on. After Glenn’s Joe Patane shot a double to centerfield in the first inning before moving to third base on a groundout, SantaMaria got a batter looking at a called strike for the third out. In the second inning, SantaMaria issued a pair of walks that put runners on the corners. Again, a strikeout ended that threat.

Even in the fourth, when Nick DiDiego slammed a solo home run, tying the score at 1-1, SantaMaria avoided further damage with an inning-ending strikeout and two runners on.

“He’s got a lot of experience pitching,” SWR coach Kevin Willi said. “He’s a pretty crafty kind of pitcher and he worked really well out of those situations.”

Willi took the ball from SantaMaria one out into the fifth, after a Patane walk and a Matt Polestino double cut the SWR lead to 4-2.

SantaMaria, who throws a four-seamer, slider and changeup, allowed four hits and four walks, with seven strikeouts.

For really pitching under pressure, though, look at what Osness had to contend with. The lefty said he was full of adrenaline when he entered his first varsity game. “I was just focused on doing my job — throwing strikes,” he said.

Willi said, “We put the pressure on him right away.”

And Osness responded. He produced a pair of big strikeouts in the fifth to leave two runners on base. In the seventh, though, things got even stickier. Facing the top of Glenn’s batting order, Osness allowed Dillon Maier’s hard-hit, nasty-hop single off shortstop Mason Kelly and a bouncing single by Patane that was beyond Kelly’s reach. Following a flyout and a walk that loaded the bases, Osness dug down deep, caught DiDiego looking at a third strike and then fanned Dan Buonanno to end it.

“I wanted that game,” said Osness, who struck out six, walked one and allowed three hits. “I wanted to win.”

Glenn’s pitchers, Polestino and reliever Cole Linquist, found ways to avert trouble themselves. After SWR (4-0, 2-0) opened its half of the first with a double by Kelly, a walk by D.J. Brown and single by Peter Minecci for a 1-0 lead, Polestino struck out the next three batters. In the sixth, SWR had two runners in scoring position with no outs and came away with no runs. Everett Wehr tried to steal home but was called out because of batter’s interference by Aidan Hutchins, who then lined into a double play.

SWR got the offense it was looking for in the fourth when it scored three times on four hits. Among those hits was a first-pitch leadoff double that Nick Bettenhauser took down the leftfield line, a two-run single by Kelly from a 3-and-2 fastball and an RBI double smacked by Brown for a 4-1 lead.

Polestino cracked an RBI double for Glenn (2-3-1, 0-2) in the fifth.

SWR has already received two no-hitters in successive starts by junior Aidan Crowley, the second one coming in SWR’s 3-0 win at Glenn Tuesday.

“Our pitching is outstanding right now,” said SantaMaria.

It would be hard to argue the point.

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Photo caption: Cullen SantaMaria, making his first start of the season for Shoreham-Wading River, allowed four hits and four walks, with seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. (Credit: Bob Liepa)