Much of the talk going into the opening round of the Suffolk County Class C baseball playoffs this week centered around Joe Wozny, the towering sophomore pitcher from Stony Brook with a rocket for a right arm.
But it was Pierson senior Tyler LaBorne who had the last word on Thursday.
LaBorne pitched a complete-game, one-hit shutout and led the Whalers to a 1-0 victory in a pitcher’s duel for the ages at Mashashimuet Park, giving Pierson a major leg up in its chase for a county championship.
“I’ve been playing baseball my whole life,” LaBorne said afterwards, “and this is the most magical team I’ve ever played on.”
Pierson (19-2) scored its lone run in the second inning after Tom Brooks, the team’s do-it-all senior catcher, reached base on an error by Stony Brook shortstop David Choi. With his team being as aggressive as ever on the base paths, Brooks came around to score on a series of throwing errors by the Stony Brook infield.
LaBorne, meanwhile, benefited from a standout defensive performance from his team sparked early on by senior centerfielder Sam Warne, who tracked down a hard-hit ball by Wozny at the fence to close out the first inning. Warne could easily have been tapped by head coach Jonathan Schwartz to start game one on Thursday, but instead, one of Suffolk County’s leader in wins, with six, will be ready for game two on Tuesday against either Mercy or Southold.
“After today’s performance, that makes my job a whole lot easier,” Warne said on Thursday. “Today was the most complete game I’ve seen, just hitting and base running and fielding. Going into next week I feel completely confident everyone is going to come together and get the job done.”
During a postgame interview, LaBorne was quick to praise his team’s defensive effort, especially on a pair of double plays that prevented runs from scoring. Matt Hall, Cooper Schiavoni and E.J. Burke teamed up for a nifty 4-6-3 double play in the sixth inning, and Oliver Kirwin caught a routine fly ball in left field in the fourth and hit his cutoff at third base, which Tucker Schiavoni rifled home to nail Sag Harbor native Seamus Scanlon at home plate.
“That play, specifically, was a tremendous throw by Oliver,” LaBorne said. “And Tucker, our third baseman — he’s a freshman — to spin and make that hard and accurate a throw, if it wasn’t as perfect as it was, he would have never been out.”
The Whalers, who mustered just two hits themselves on Thursday — a single by Brooks in the fourth and a bunt single by Nick Egbert in the fifth — will now turn their attention to Tuesday’s game against either Mercy or Southold, who were scheduled to face off on Friday. Since the tournament is a double-elimination format, neither the Whalers nor their opponent will be eliminated from the postseason on Tuesday. Stony Brook on Saturday will face whoever loses the game between Mercy and Southold, and the winner will advance to face the loser of Tuesday’s game at Mashashimuet Park. The Suffolk County Class C Championship, therefore, could either be decided on Thursday, May 24, or Friday, May 25, depending on who wins the first outing.
“We want to play whoever we’re going to be playing, but obviously we have a rivalry with Southold,” Warne said when asked which team he would rather face with the championship on the line. “It just seems like every year we’ve played them.”
No matter how things go on Tuesday, it is likely that LaBorne will return as the starter for game three, and based on Thursday’s result, the Whalers’ senior leaders are feeling quite confident.
“My defense today was incredible behind me,” LaBorne said as a large crowd emptied from Mashashimuet Park. “If it wasn’t for them, it would not have been the result that it was.”
When asked about his attempted steal of home in the fifth inning, which proved unsuccessful, Warne sounded like a player who is nowhere near ready to pack up his senior season.
“We’ve been working on it in practice, stealing home,” Warne said about what was probably the most dramatic play in a game chock full of drama. “The previous play before I was halfway there and he wasn’t even looking at me. We tried to roll the dice and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.
“But it’s kind of good to practice those plays now,” he added. “The goal is to get to states, and those games are going to be tight so we’re probably going to have to whip out one of those plays at some point.”
In the meantime, the next step toward a county title is set for 4 p.m. on Tuesday in Sag Harbor.