Whalers’ Dream Ride Comes to a Disappointing End

Pierson senior Sam Warne kneels at home plate in disbelief after he struck out to end the Long Island Class C Championship at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue on Thursday. Gavin Menu photos

There wasn’t much need for postgame interviews following Pierson’s 5-4 loss to East Rockaway in the Long Island Class C Championship last Thursday, May 31. The story was already written on the Whalers’ young faces.

For a team that won 21 games this season on strong pitching and aggressive base running, both proved to be its undoing at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, where a 4-2 Pierson lead evaporated in the seventh and final inning.

Senior Tyler LaBorne pitched out of several jams on Thursday before being replaced on the mound by Cooper Schiavoni.

Junior Cooper Schiavoni, the team’s All-County shortstop, came on in relief of senior ace Tyler LaBorne, who pitched six steady innings but gave up two walks and a run in the sixth that prompted Pierson skipper Jonathan Schwartz to call on his bullpen. Schiavoni gave up a walk and hit the next batter before a pair of two-out hits gave the Nassau County champion Rocks a one-run lead.

Rocks pitcher Stefano Cilluffo struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh inning to close out an 11-strikeout, complete-game performance.

“I felt that Cooper had been in that spot during the season” Schwartz said later. “Tyler was over 100 pitches and I believe in a fresh arm that comes in at a different speed, at a different location, at a different release point. I knew Cooper wouldn’t be nervous — he’s very calm and loose out there — and I’d rather give a kid like that a fresh inning than take the chance that if Tyler gets in trouble to bring him in with men on base.”

East Rockaway (15-6) went on to defeat Pine Plains, 6-2, in the state regional final on Saturday and will play for a state championships this weekend in Binghamton.

The Rocks struck first in the top of the third inning when Pierson rightfielder Nick Egbert dropped a routine fly ball that allowed Rob Ventura to come around and score. The Whalers came alive in the fifth inning and scored four runs off their trademark baserunning. Oliver Kirwin led off the inning with a single and run scored and E.J. Burke reached third base before charging home on a passed ball to score Pierson’s second run on a magnificent head-first slide. Warne, who reached on a throwing error, and Egbert, who earned a walk, each scored after stealing multiple bases. The inning ended with Schiavoni called out after attempting to steal home with senior Tom Brooks, a normally reliable hitter, at the plate. The score remained, 4-1, going into the top of the sixth inning.

“We decided we would do what we do and stay aggressive,” Schwartz said about his team’s baserunning. “That’s what got us through to where we were. We tested them out and it paid off for us.

“Tom had two strikes and was struggling with that at bat,” he added about the attempted steal of home, a play that Schwartz called for. “Cooper looked at me and it was something we had practiced. We had the timing down in practice. We knew the chance we were taking with it, but with two strikes and a tough at bat we thought we would take a chance.”

Pierson junior Cooper Schiavoni pitching in the seventh inning on Thursday.

LaBorne picked up two quick outs in the sixth before giving up consecutive singles to Jon Starkman and Matt Perri. Two straight walks brought home Starkman and the Rocks pulled within two runs of the Whalers.

After a quick bottom of the sixth, the Whalers returned to the field with Schiavoni on the mound. He recorded the first out on a routine grounder to second base, but at that point the wheels came off. Schiavoni walked Chris Perri and hit Dylan Henshaw in the back to put the tying run on base. Like they did in the sixth inning, Starkman and Matt Perri followed with back-to-back RBI hits that gave their team a 5-4 lead, which ultimately stood up and advanced the Rocks in the state playoffs while bringing an end to the careers of seven Pierson seniors, including LaBorne, Warne, Brooks, Burke, Kirwin, Emmett Shaughnessy and Greg Byrne.

“The amount of experience they brought to our team was huge, the leadership, the big hits and having two senior pitchers is a big deal,” Schwartz said about LaBorne and Warne, who would have started on Saturday if the Whalers had advanced. “They were good kids. It was fun to talk baseball with them on the bus rides and at practice, to get their opinions on what they thought, and where the team was.”

As for the younger players who will return next season, including Schiavoni, his younger brother, Tucker, and Matt Hall, who combined to make up three-quarters of the Pierson infield this season, Schwartz said he expects more big things to come.

“The younger kids got a taste of what it’s like to be in super competitive games where every pitch can make the difference,” he said. “Starting in January we begin our winter workouts in the gym. We did a lot of work before this season and I’m hoping for an even better turnout and attendance next year, because they know me, they know what to expect and hopefully they have high expectations again going into next year.”

Pierson catcher Tom Brooks can’t watch at East Rockaway celebrates their go-ahead runs in the top of the seventh inning on Thursday.
Tucker Schiavoni prepares to make a tag at third base.
Pierson coach Jonathan Schwartz visiting the mound in the sixth inning on Thursday.
Sam Warne slides in safe at second base.
E.J. Burke celebrates after scoring on a head-first slide into home plate.
Pierson coach Jonathan Schwartz waves home Oliver Kirwin in the fifth inning.
Sam Warne takes a cut against East Rockaway.