GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Gabe Rice pitched five and two-third innings of two-hit ball in addition to hitting a two-run single for Riverhead.
BOHEMIA — After just about every inning, the Riverhead High School baseball coach, Rob Maccone, would ask his starting pitcher, Gabe Rice, the same question: “Can you give me another?”
Rice first responded affirmatively and then with his arm.
By the time Maccone gave Rice a big bear hug on the mound before taking him out in the sixth inning, the senior right-hander had put the Blue Waves into position for their first win of the season, a 7-2 non-league triumph over the Connetquot Thunderbirds.
On a raw Saturday morning in which the temperature felt far less than 50 degrees because of an unpredictable wind, Maccone could not have asked for anything more. Rice allowed only two hits and one unearned run while striking out three and walking four before he was relieved by Connor Carroll with one out in the sixth inning. Carroll finished up.
“Lights out,” Riverhead center fielder Jamie Fox said. “Probably the best I’ve seen him pitch in a long time. He should be like that every game. Definitely the best pitching performance of the year for our team.”
The Blue Waves needed a well-pitched game. They entered the game with an 0-4 record (0-3 in Suffolk County League IV) and were coming off a bye week before taking on Connetquot, a League II team which dropped to 4-4 with the loss.
“We needed it big time,” Maccone said. “We were 0-4 and the kids were down. They weren’t sure if they were any good. The team we played, they’re going to be in the playoffs and make a run in their league. It was good to get the first win. Hopefully, we can ride that next week.”
Rice, who has been used as a reliever, has been penciled in to start Riverhead’s home game vs. the Copiague Egles on Saturday, the third scheduled game of this week’s series against Riverhead’s League IV foes.
“He ran out of gas the last time we threw him,” Maccone said. “He threw two and a third great innings and ran out of gas. All I wanted out of him was two or three today and he gave me five. I’m happy. Next week if he gives me three innings … I just want him to give me quality innings. I don’t care how many it is.”
Rice said he had an inkling he had some good stuff early in the game.
“It’s usually as we start getting into it,” he said. “You set down a couple of batters and you start to get your confidence back up. It just goes from there.”
Rice’s best pitch, a curveball, was so effective that twice he retired seven consecutive batters.
“Once you know that you have retired enough, you just groove from there,” he said.
Rice’s teammates responded by playing little ball, manufacturing runs and taking advantage of the Thunderbirds’ four errors while making only one themselves.
“We’re usually on the other end of that,” Riverhead second baseman Jon Tucci said. “It’s good to see it happen to us.”
For example, the Blue Waves scored a run without hitting the ball out of the infield in the first inning. Tucci reached base on an error, made it to second on a strikeout via a wild pitch and scored on another error.
They added another run in the second as Glenn Patriss singled to center, stole second and third and was driven in on a sacrifice fly by Fox, the first of his two runs batted in.
“We did the little things right today,” Maccone said. “We stole some bases and took the extra bases when we needed to.”
The Blue Waves broke through for three runs in the top of the fourth. After two outs, Tucci (hit by pitch) and Jordan Demchuk (walk) reached base. Rob Pisano lofted a pop fly into short right field that was dropped for a two-base error, scoring Tucci. After James Porco walked, Rice helped his cause by lacing a two-run single to left for a 5-0 lead.
“That put us over the top,” Rice said.
The Blue Waves added two runs in the seventh on run-scoring singles by Tim Clement and Fox.
Rice was happy the Blue Waves recorded their first win.
“It’s very important,” he said. “It shows us we have a good team. Probably made people believe in us more. Made our team believe in us more.”