It never was going to be an easy high school baseball season for the Greenport Porters, but they at least made their playoff push a little easier Tuesday with a vital upset of the Port Jefferson Royals.
After experiencing the deflation of blowing a 5-0 lead and seeing Port Jefferson rally to send the game into extra innings, Greenport pulled baseball’s equivalent of a rabbit out of the hat, prevailing by 7-6 in eight innings at Greenport High School.
The Porters got some help along the way in the opening game of the Suffolk County League VIII series. In addition to Port Jefferson committing four errors, the Royals also made some other costly blunders. The Royals saw one of their base runners get hit by a ground ball, cutting short a potential rally. They saw another one of their base runners doubled off of first base to end another promising inning. And, finally, the most memorable play of them all — the last one.
Greenport’s No. 8 batter. Austin Hooks, led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a walk. Following an errant pick-off attempt and a passed ball, he slid into third base with no outs. The next batter, Harley Britt, drew a walk, setting the stage for Mark Pagano. With the infield drawn in, Pagano drove a ground ball to the second baseman, who apparently lost his focus and tagged Britt out while Hooks raced in for the game-winning run.
“We won in similar fashion last week, and it’s fun to win like that, and it’s awful to lose like that,” said Port Jefferson Coach Jesse Rosen.
Greenport has endured its share of tough losses this season, and Porters Coach Mike Reed said: “I don’t think I could take another one. Oh, this would have hurt, definitely. I’m proud of my team, though. This is how you battle back.”
This three-game series will continue tomorrow in Port Jefferson and conclude Friday in Greenport. A lot is at stake for both teams. Port Jefferson is contending for the league title; Greenport is fighting for a playoff berth.
Port Jefferson (9-5, 9-4) started the day tied for first place with the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs. Those teams will face each other in their final three-game series of the regular season.
“I think it’s an exciting aspect of high school baseball,” said Rosen, whose team is one win shy of clinching a postseason place. “Mercy’s a good team, but for now we’re thinking about Greenport.”
Greenport (7-8, 7-6), meanwhile, is thinking about what it needs to do to reach the playoffs. It must win three of its final five regular-season games. Tuesday’s win gave added meaning to Greenport’s final series against the Southold First Settlers.
“We’re capable of taking all five games left, but you never know which team is going to show up,” said Michael Reed, the Greenport catcher who is the coach’s son.
Reed, who entered the game with a team-leading .422 batting average, had a big afternoon, smacking in four runs. Three of them came when he drove a double deep over the center fielder, making it 5-0 in the second.
But Port Jefferson, aided by Alex Ruback’s 4-for-4 hitting and three hits apiece by Drew Crovello and Joe Gerbino, whittled away at that lead.
“They have a great offense,” Pagano said of the Royals. “They came back, and thank God we were able to battle back and come through with the victory.”
Greenport was holding a 6-4 lead and was three outs away from winning in the seventh when it faced Port Jefferson’s Nos. 6, 7 and 8 batters. Gerbino’s slow bouncing infield dribbler enabled him to beat the third baseman’s throw. He was later tripled home by Alex Tsunis, making it a 6-5 game.
After Greenport’s starting pitcher, Pagano, got a two-strike count on Erik Esposito, the Porters sent their top pitcher, Shawn Hansen, to the mound. Hansen struck out Esposito on the next pitch, but then allowed a soft infield single by Joey Booker that tied the score.
Port Jefferson loaded the bases in the eighth, but Greenport escaped unscathed when reliever Matt Dibble got Alex Carlacci to line into a double play in which the first baseman, Hooks, made a nice grab and then applied a tag to a runner.
“This is why you play the game,” Coach Reed said. “You know what? Anything can happen. It’s baseball.”
Port Jefferson outhit Greenport, 15-8, and received a 10-strikeout performance from its starter, Tsunis, who lasted six innings.
“If we get to make it into the playoffs, this is going to help us in the long run, these one-run games,” Coach Reed said. “I mean, it’s a heart attack in the making, but, you know what, it builds character.”
Still, it doesn’t help a coach’s stress level.
Said Mike Reed, “I’m getting grayer by the day.”