ROYALS 7, FIRST SETTLERS 6
The playoffs have begun. Well, not officially, but the resumption of the Suffolk County League VIII baseball series between rivals Port Jefferson and Southold has brought with it a postseason atmosphere. It’s a dramatic showdown with a lot at stake, especially for Port Jefferson.
Although Southold has already punched its ticket to the postseason, snapping a two-year playoff drought, Port Jefferson is still one win away from extending its impressive playoff run to nine straight years.
“I just feel like it’s part of the every-year routine at this point,” said Joe Gerbino, who catches and pitches for Port Jefferson. “We’re expected to make playoffs. We have a great program, a great head coach.”
Port Jefferson gave its playoff prospects a significant boost by holding on for a 7-6 triumph in Southold on Tuesday. The result snapped Southold’s seven-game win streak.
The two teams are scheduled to meet again tomorrow in Port Jefferson and Thursday in Southold. The Royals (10-8, 10-8) know what they need to do.
“We got to take one,” Port Jefferson coach Jesse Rosen said. “I feel great about it. For us to win a game like this today, this was huge.”
Southold (11-7, 11-7), which trailed by 6-1 in the fifth inning, pulled to within one run when Will Fujita smacked a three-run homer — his second of the season — with two outs in the sixth to make it 7-6. Fujita said he landed the fat part of the bat on a 1-2 pitch and then took off. “I just put my head down and ran to first,” he said, “and when I heard everybody kind of yelling, that’s when I looked up and saw that it was over.”
Port Jefferson scored what proved to be the game-winning run in the sixth. Joey Booker’s sacrifice fly brought home Nick D’Auria, making it 7-3.
Port Jefferson’s starting pitcher, Dan Serignese, pitched only one inning. In the bottom of the first he hurt his shoulder after running out a ground ball, tripping over either Southold pitcher Kyle Clausen’s foot or the first-base bag and taking a hard fall. Rosen said he will not be looking for Serignese to pitch in the final two regular-season games.
Gerbino, one of four pitchers the Royals used, pitched the final three innings. The senior retired Southold’s last four batters to wrap up the win.
Asked if he was concerned after Fujita’s three-run shot made it a one-run game, Rosen expressed the confidence he has in Gerbino.
“I wouldn’t say my heart was in my throat,” Rosen said. “I’ll be honest with you. I have more faith in the kid who was on the mound there than with any kid I’ve ever coached.”
Alex Tsunis doubled twice and had three hits and one run batted in for Port Jefferson.
Clausen provided Southold with a leadoff home run in the fifth. It was his first homer of the season and part of a 3-for-3 day for the senior in which he drove in two runs, doubled, walked and scored twice.
The error-filled game, which was partially played under a slight drizzle, saw both sides commit six errors each.
Southold left eight runners on base. What really irked Southold coach Mike Carver were the first three of those. The First Settlers loaded the bases in the first inning with none out after Luke Hokanson and Matt Reilly reached base on errors before Clausen walked. But the first of two double plays turned by Port Jefferson on the day snuffed that threat out.
“Lost opportunities,” Carver bemoaned. “Loaded bases, no outs in the first inning. That killed us. That really did. That will come back to haunt you.”
And it did, along with miscues in the field, the sort that had been noticeably absent during Southold’s winning streak.
“I think we just get hits when we need them and we play defense when we need it,” Fujita said. “It would be nice for it to all come together at one time.”
Carver said, “We didn’t have our ‘A’ game today and probably only needed our ‘B’-plus game today and we didn’t even have that.”
Southold has incentive to keep Port Jefferson out of the playoffs. If the Royals do get in, it is expected that the two Class C teams will meet in the playoffs. One more win by Southold would assure the First Settlers of a home playoff game, said Carver.
Port Jefferson is not only a desperate team, but it is a focused team. Gerbino said the Royals were focused on the bus ride to Southold, focused during warmups and focused during the game.
The Royals can feel good that they have history on their side. They found themselves in exactly the same situation two years ago, needing to take two of three games from Southold in order to qualify for the playoffs, and they did just that. Once again, they have a lot to play for.
“This is my favorite part of the year,” Gerbino said. “I love playing when it really means something.”