Twice delayed by weather-related postponements, the Suffolk County Class C baseball finals were worth waiting for. It was an entertaining series, with both Southold and Pierson/Bridgehampton running neck and neck through the first two games. As the one-run margins in those first two games attest, the teams were razor close.
From the neutral point of view, Game 3 was easily the least intriguing of the three games, but it was the decisive one. Pierson/Bridgehampton kept its unbeaten home record intact, cranking out 11 hits (four more than it had in the first two games combined) for a 7-1 victory that brought the Whalers the county championship in front of their fans at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor.
“It was a good day for us,” said Pierson/Bridgehampton coach Jon Tortorella.
Although it managed five of them on this wind-blown afternoon, hits weren’t easy to come by against Colman Vila, the junior left-hander who can now lay claim to the unofficial title as the best pitcher in League IX. Vila ran his record to 9-0 with complete-game wins in the first and third games of the series. In those 14 innings, he registered 13 strikeouts against seven hits and five walks, allowing only one run. Although an official series most valuable player award wasn’t presented, he would have been the most deserving recipient of such an honor.
“Vila is a great pitcher, and he definitely shut us down this whole series,” said Southold’s senior pitcher, Kyle Clausen.
Of course, other players came through for the Whalers in the series, players like Forrest Loesch (5 for 10, two runs, one run batted in) and Aaron Schiavoni (3 for 8, one run, two RBI, three walks).
The Whalers evidently weren’t thrilled with how they played last Thursday in their 5-4 loss in Game 2. That heightened their intensity for Game 3 and sharpened their focus. “We had a lot of hitting practice,” said Loesch.
And it showed.
The pitching rematch between Vila and Clausen, who may be regarded as the second-best pitcher in the league, wasn’t exactly the same as in Game 1 last Wednesday when both pitchers threw two-hitters in a 1-0 Pierson/Bridgehampton win. This time, Tortorella said, the Whalers took a smarter approach in the batter’s box. They made Clausen work.
“Clausen is a great pitcher, and I think the other day against him we really just tried to do too much,” Tortorella said. “We talked about keeping things simple and just putting good swings on the baseball. They didn’t let good pitches go. They weren’t intimidated. If they saw something they liked, they swung the bat. As you could tell, there were some great at-bats.”
The lion’s share of the pressure in this game — and in this series — must have been on the Whalers. With eight seniors, they are a little more seasoned than Southold. With their sparkling 20-3 record, much has been expected of them.
And what is Southold to make of its season?
Well, it wasn’t a bad one, especially after an 0-4 start. The First Settlers won 13 of their final 16 regular-season games to not only get into the playoffs, but knock rival Port Jefferson out of contention in the process. They finished with a 14-9 record.
Southold relied heavily on three of its seniors — Clausen, Will Fujita and Luke Hokanson. Southold coach Mike Carver calls them the “MV-Trio.”
This series showed Southold’s potential as well as its shortcomings, which the team needs to shore up if it hopes to grab the county crown next year. Southold’s fielding was shaky at times and its hitting was sporadic. Perhaps that can be attributed to youth. The First Settlers were clearly hurt by a lack of depth. It’s amazing what a difference even one player can make.
But Game 3 left no doubt which team was most deserving to represent Suffolk in the Long Island final against East Rockaway on Monday. Still, that doesn’t ease the pain the First Settlers must have felt over their season coming to an end.
“It’s kind of sad to see that for some guys, this will be their last organized baseball game ever,” said Clausen, who will not be one of them. He will go on to play for the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
For a team that started the season with a number of question marks, though, Southold cannot feel too badly about what it did. Carver said his young players learned a lot.
“I’m proud of them,” he said before meeting with his seniors after the game. “It was a good season. I think we accomplished a lot of good things this year and I think they played over their heads. They pushed themselves. We got whatever we could out of each other.”