By Jesse Rosenthal
Playoff hopes are still alive and well for the Pierson Varsity Baseball team. They have won their last four games. With two left in the season, both of which the Whalers need to win to keep their postseason on the horizon from sinking, look for some exciting baseball coming up this week.
On Friday the boys finished their three game series of Smithtown Christian by winning away 11-2 and sweeping the series in the process. Tuesday’s game was a nailbiter. Pierson opened the McGann-Mercy series at home on Tuesday, putting on a show in a come-from-behind 5-4 victory.
It has been a rare instance this season when everything has gone right for the Whalers. They have lost a handful of games this season by one run, and have been a victim of unfortunate league rules that swayed the outcome of a game in their opponents favor. And many times when their defense was sharp, their bats were cold and vice versa. Friday in Smithtown was a prime example of what these kids are capable of when each part of the machine is moving in unison.
“We played some great baseball today,” said Coach Tortorella of Friday’s match-up. “We hit, ran the bases well, played defense the way we should and our pitchers did a solid job.”
Starting pitcher Jake Weingartner threw five innings, allowing two hits and one earned run. “Jake was great on the mound,” said Tortorella. “He threw strikes and really kept the hitters off balance. I was impressed.”
T.J. Arreguin came in for relief in the sixth and allowed only one more run, keeping Smithtown’s tally at only two runs on the day. The infield was a more cohesive unit than it has been thus far, backing up the solid pitching by committing minimal errors.
The bats were on fire. Lead-off artist Tyler Gilbride went three-for-five with three stolen bases and one run scored. Right fielder Gavin Kudlak was two-for-two with a triple and three runs scored and third baseman George Hoglund was two-for-three with a stolen base and one run.
On Tuesday Pierson met with some decidedly tougher competition in the form of McGann-Mercy. Behind the hot fastball pitching of Kyle McGowin, the Whalers stepped up and made clutch plays in the field and capitalized offensively when it was absolutely necessary.
After Mercy left three runners on base in the top of the first, Pierson scored one early. A Dane Riva walk, followed by a Jake Weingartner single into right gave way to an early opportunity for 3B George Hoglund who has been clutch for the Whalers on both sides of the ball recently. A double up the right field line was enough to Riva, giving Pierson an early 1-0 lead.
Mercy answered back swiftly, and loudly. A single, a walk and a successful bunt loaded the bases for Mercy’s cleanup batter who took full advantage, knocking a fly ball over Mark Mahoney’s head in center field and turning on the wheels for an inside the park grand slam (really a triple, with an error). In a somewhat paradoxical inning, all three outs came in the form of McGowin Ks.
Not to be silenced so easily, McGowin helped himself to some run support in the bottom of the second. With two outs, walks from Mark Mahoney and Tyler Gilbride put runners on first and second for McGowin, who blasted a triple up the right field line scoring both runners and narrowing Mercy’s lead to 4-3 after two played.
The third, fourth and fifth innings were scoreless, but not uneventful. McGowin’s noticeable grace under pressure, combined with the deft play of his infield and outfield to back him up made for exciting baseball all day.
In the top of the fourth, two singles, two strike outs and a walk left McGowin facing the heart of Mercy’s batting order with two outs and the bases juiced. McGowin did what he does best and threw consistent strikes, getting the batter to fly out to center field and end the inning for Mercy who left three on base for the second time in the game.
More solid pitching in the top of five, which was highlighted by a great backhand scoop and turning throw from SS Jake Weingartner to get the second out, gave way to a three-up-three-down top of the sixth, the score still 4-3 Mercy.
In the bottom of the sixth the Whalers took what was there for the taking. A hard grounder off the bat of Mahoney and a single into left from Gilbride, again put two on base (the same two) for McGowin. He couldn’t do it again, could he? Yes. He could. Another triple in almost the exact same spot up the right field line scored Mahoney and Gilbride easily and put the Whalers out in front 5-4.
Another three-up-three-down in the top of the seventh, and the Whalers were one step closer to the playoffs. Ever focused on what lies directly ahead, Tortorella is determined not to let his team get ahead of itself.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” he said. “There is a great opportunity in front of us right now. These boys have come so far as a team. We’re playing good baseball right now, we just need to keep it going.”
The last two games of the regular season are this week, both against McGann-Mercy. The first was rained out last night and will be rescheduled. The final game of the season is scheduled for Friday at home at 4:30 p.m.