Talk about dramatics.
The Riverhead Little League 11-and 12-year-old all-star team clinched the District 36 championship Monday night with a thrilling extra inning game against the Longwood all-stars. In three straight innings, Longwood rallied to tie the game after Riverhead had taken the lead in the top of the inning as the two teams matched one clutch hit after another.
The Blue Waves kept fighting, ultimately scoring a run in the top of the ninth and holding on for a 6-5 victory at Stotzky Park as daylight began to fade on a game that spanned more than two hours. (Little League games are six innings).
The win comes two days after the 9-and 10-year-old all-star team from Riverhead also won the District 36 title, making it the first time in league history that Riverhead won the district championship in both divisions in the same year, according to Riverhead Little League president Jeremy Savio.
Jason Davis, an 11-year-old who pitched in relief to begin extra innings in the seventh, recorded the final out, stranding the tying run on second base and thwarting one final Longwood rally. Davis spiked his glove into the grass as teammates swarmed him and the celebration began.
“It’s so rewarding when the hard work pays off for these guys,” said head coach Jason Perez. “The younger team won Saturday and for us to do it tonight was unbelievable.”
Many of the players on this year’s team were also part of the 9-and 10-year-old all-star team that won the district title in 2019.
There were no shortage of key plays as Riverhead relied on a team effort to pull out the win, from several outstanding defensive plays, to strong pitching to key hits.
Lefty Bennett Smith delivered the game-winning RBI with a single in the top of the ninth to make it 6-5. Starting in the eighth inning, a runner was placed on second base to begin each inning.
The game started out as a great pitching duel as Matthew Zambriski threw five scoreless for Riverhead. The Riverhead all-stars broke through with two runs in the top of the fifth as the bottom of the order sparked the offense. Collin Chattaway struck an opposite field double to right to score Davis for the game’s first run. Chattaway later came around to score the second run on a single by Smith. Riverhead was the away team even though the game was played at its home field.
Zambriski escaped in the fifth after giving up one hit, but in the bottom of the sixth, Longwood’s bit bat of Tyler Plugues sent the game into extra innings as he crushed a mammoth two-run home run to center.
Riverhead bounced back to take a 3-2 lead before Longwood answered again in the bottom of the seventh to tie it.
In the top of the eighth, Zambriski hit a two-run home run for Riverhead to make it 5-3. But once again, it the set the stage for Plugues. With a runner automatically on second, the Riverhead coaches discussed whether to intentionally walk Plugues. They opted to pitch to him, and the slugger made them pay with another home run, this time an opposite field shot to right field that tied the game once more.
“If we walk him, then the winning run is at the plate,” Perez said. “Both times I decided to pitch to him which, that’s a live or die situation. If it went any other way I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Fortunately it worked out.”
Perez said Riverhead has had its struggles against Longwood in the past. But on this night, the team played one of its best games.
“Today was our day,” he said.
The all-star team is now 6-0 in the tournament and will advance to the New York Section 4 double-elimination tournament on the next step to Williamsport. The all-star team will play Wednesday against East Meadow in Plainview. The team would need at least three wins to claim the Section 4 title. Riverhead Little League last won the Section 4 title in 2018.