Tales of that “one bad inning” are well known. This, however, was one horrific inning that defied the odds and stunned the participants.
Two pitches into its Suffolk County Class A baseball playoff game Sunday, Shoreham-Wading River was already ahead, 2-0, at Rocky Point High School. The Wildcats went on to later take a 5-0 lead and looked firmly in control.
And then the fifth inning rolled around.
Even the bottom of the fifth started out innocently enough as two of the first three Rocky Point batters were retired. That is when the Wildcats must have felt as if they had entered a real-life episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
One Rocky Point batter after another stepped into the batter’s box and did something productive. By the time the 35-minute half-inning ended, the damage was substantial. In that inning alone, Rocky Point had scored 14 runs, banged out 13 hits, walked twice, had a batter hit by a pitch and benefitted from two errors and a balk in a dramatic turnaround that brought the Eagles a stunning 15-6 victory.
The Eagles made 19 plate appearances in the inning. Aside from that inning, Rocky Point had managed only one other hit.
“I’m going to call that the inning from hell,” said SWR coach Kevin Willi, whose team was eliminated from the double-elimination tournament with the loss. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
SWR rightfielder Mike Smith had difficulty finding words. “I am shocked,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. They just got it in an inning. They just clicked and it was too much.”
Second-seeded Rocky Point (19-4), the League VI champion that had defeated SWR by 4-3 in 10 innings earlier in the tournament, will face No. 4 Hauppauge or No. Sayville in the best-of-three finals starting Friday.
What made the sudden about-face so unexpected was how well things had started for No. 3 SWR (17-6). D.J. Brown was hit by the game’s first pitch. On the next pitch, Mason Kelly sent a booming home run, his seventh of the year, over centerfield.
SWR produced three runs in the third on a run-scoring infield single by Everett Wehr and successive bases-loaded walks by Aidan Hutchins and Brown.
Early on, SWR’s defense shined. Jared Sciarrino made an outstanding diving catch to rob Alexander Bonacci (3-for-4) of a hit and save a run in the first inning. An inning later, Smith made a great tumbling catch of a fly hit by Connor Hamilton while racing toward centerfield.
It was after Wehr’s one-out single in the third when Rocky Point coach Anthony Anzalone pulled his ace pitcher, Rob Milopsky, who had entered the game with a 7-2 record, a 1.18 ERA and 75 strikeouts against five walks in 59 innings.
Eric Maier handled the rest of the pitching for Rocky Point. The only run charged to him was the result of Tyler Widercrantz’s lined RBI single in the sixth.
Bonacci and Connor each drove in three runs in the fifth when it was almost as if the baseball gods had interceded on Rocky Point’s behalf.
“We jumped out to an early lead,” Kelly said. “We got real confident. I think we could have hit a little more, piled it on a little more early, but it’s really a credit to them. They never give up. They probably have the most heart I’ve ever seen in a team. Down 5-nothing, a lot of teams would lay down and die, but they didn’t even think about that. Thirteen hits in an inning is pretty crazy. They’re just a great team.”
Willi said: “We made a couple of misplays. They just went from maybe having one hit all game to making a lot of good contact. You know, even the weak contact was a sweep through the middle, looped over the guy’s head … It just all went wrong at once. Otherwise, we played six solid innings of baseball and we win the game.”
The Wildcats declared the season a success. What will Smith remember most about this SWR team?
“Our heart, our grit,” he said. “There was a ton of games, late innings where we came back, got walk-offs. We never died till the game was over. That’s what I’m going to remember most.”
As for that 14-run fifth inning, well, that’s something for Rod Serling.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River coach Kevin Willi joins pitcher Cullen SantaMaria and others in a conference by the pitcher’s mound during Rocky Point’s 14-run, 13-hit fifth inning. (Credit: Bob Liepa)