FIRST SETTLERS 10, ROYALS 1
Never underestimate the motivating factor of revenge for a baseball team, nor, for that matter, the allure of a beneficial playoff seeding.
After being eliminated from playoff contention by Port Jefferson the past two years, Southold returned the favor on Friday. The playoff-bound First Settlers broke open a one-run game with an eight-run rally in the sixth inning to defeat Port Jefferson, 10-1, and put an end to the Royals’ postseason chances on the final day of the regular season for both teams.
“It felt great, it really did,” Southold second baseman Alex Poliwoda said. “I know we always have a big rivalry with these guys, and it just felt great to finally get these guys out.”
Southold (13-7, 13-7 Suffolk County League IX) had already clinched its place in the playoffs, but ensured that it will not have to face Port Jefferson (10-10, 10-10) in the Suffolk Class B Tournament. Although the playoff brackets have not been released yet, it is expected that Southold and League IX champion Pierson/Bridgehampton (17-2, 17-2) will face each other for the county title. Southold lost three of the four games it played against the Whalers this season.
But the First Settlers ride into the playoffs in winning form, having triumphed in 13 of their last 16 games.
Southold approached Friday’s game at Southold High School as if it was a playoff game because it was so in everything but name.
Kyle Clausen picked up the win without allowing an earned run. The right-hander struck out five batters and scattered seven hits. He did not issue a walk.
Clausen escaped a major jam in the fourth inning. Port Jefferson’s first three batters — Joe Gerbino, Dan Serignese and Erik Esposito — singled to load the bases. It looked like big trouble for Southold, but then Clausen struck out two batters in addition to catching a foul ball, keeping the score tied at 1-1.
“Kyle, he’s a great pitcher,” Poliwoda said. “I had faith in him the whole time. I knew he could get out of it. That totally set the tone and made us realize what we had to do for him.”
What the First Settlers needed to do was score runs. They pulled ahead, 2-1, in their half of the fourth. The first two batters, Will Fujita and Rob Mahony, had reached base on a single and a walk, respectively. Alex Tsunis struck out the next two batters before Fujita and Mahony both took off on a double steal. The catcher’s wayward throw toward third base went into left field and Fujita scooted home for the go-ahead run.
But Southold wanted some insurance, and got plenty of it in the sixth when the First Settlers rang up eight runs. Amazingly, they scored all eight of those runs with two outs, and did so with only two hits. But they were big hits: a two-run double by Shayne Johnson and a three-run single by Poliwoda.
“This was probably the biggest rally we’ve had all season,” Poliwoda said. “We had a rally going and I didn’t want to make that final out. I wanted to keep going, keep the rally going.”
Four errors helped Southold extend the inning with 12 plate appearances.
“We opened it up,” Carver said. “We just kept hitting, kept hitting, kept hitting.”
But Carver raved about the play of his infield, which did not make an error. Fujita was at first base, Poliwoda at second, Mahony at shortstop and Luke Hokanson at third.
“Our defense was phenomenal again,” Carver said. “That’s what made our season, our defense. Our infield, like I said, I’ll say it again, hands down, the best infield in the league. The best infield I have ever had on my team in 17 years of baseball.”
And with the 10 runs and nine hits it put up Friday, Southold’s offense seems ready for the playoffs as well.
Before the game, Southold coach MIKE CARVER paid tribute to his seven seniors — CHRIS BOLETTIERI, KYLE CLAUSEN, ZACH DE PAULIS, WILL FUJITA, LUKE HOKANSON, MATT REILLY and ALEX SINCLAIR — as part of a Senior Day ceremony. The seniors were introduced to the fans and presented with baseballs. Three of those seniors — Clausen, Fujita and Hokanson — entered the game with batting averages over .400.