Even before the first pitch was thrown this season, it was known that the Southold High School baseball team was armed and dangerous with a formidable pitching staff. What wasn’t as certain, but soon became obvious, was that those arms came with bats. They go hand in hand.
With the help of Dylan Clausen’s resilient, strong left arm and a display of explosive firepower at the plate, Southold won its third consecutive Suffolk County Class C championship Thursday. Last year was the first time Southold had won back-to-back county titles, according to coach Mike Carver.
The First Settlers rang up all 14 of their runs in the first three innings (including a nine-run burst in the third) to bounce Pierson/Bridgehampton, 14-4, in the decisive third game of the finals in Southold.
After the final out was recorded, gloves flew in the air and happy Southold players mobbed each other, forming a human mound near the pitcher’s mound.
“It’s surreal,” Southold catcher Shane Zimmer said. “It really is.”
Just two days earlier, Southold (22-1) was held to three hits by James Sherry in a 4-1 loss that evened the series at one game each. That defeat, the team’s only one this season, had an impact.
“I hope it was a little reality check for us that we are beatable and can’t just walk through games,” said Pat McFarland, who played shortstop before throwing the final inning of relief.
Carver said: “They had a mission. They were focused at practice yesterday. They took a lot of swings, and it paid off. That loss could have been the best thing to happen to us.”
It was a refocused Southold team that took the field Thursday, with Clausen (9-0) starting on the mound for the second time in four days. The senior had thrown 87 pitches in Game 1, a three-hit shutout. With three nights rest, he was asked again to take the ball. The thinking was, by having Clausen pitch, McFarland could remain at shortstop where he is heavily valued.
Clausen said he didn’t throw at all yesterday in practice and iced his arm. After the game he said he felt “a little more pain than usual.” He added, however, “You got to put your heart on the line. You got to sacrifice something for the team.”
Clausen threw 102 pitches over six innings. He surrendered four hits and of the four runs scored off him, two were earned. His pitching line also included nine strikeouts and one walk. He hit two batters. (Southold batters were hit four times, including Joe Hayes twice.)
“He’s a workhorse,” Zimmer said of Clausen. “He did really well today. He had to settle in. Every start, he gets stronger as he keeps going on.”
Pierson (17-6) gave Southold cause for concern by opening the game with a three-run rally in the first. Sean Sloane (2-for-3) slammed a two-run double over centerfielder Doug Fiedler and later scored on an error after stealing third base.
Southold’s response was immediate. The First Settlers plated two runs in its half of the inning from Zimmer’s two-run double.
In the second, Southold went in front. McFarland supplied a sacrifice fly, Zimmer drew a bases-loaded walk and Luke Hansen scored on a Clausen groundout for a 5-3 lead.
But the real coup de grace came in the third. Nine runs from five hits and three errors.
On an afternoon when the temperature at game time was 86 degrees, Southold’s bats were hot. The First Settlers churned out 12 hits, the strangest of them all being Billy Burns’ first career home run to lead off the third. The junior drove a ball deep that the leftfielder, Sloane, got the tip of his glove to. The ball then ricochetted over the fence and Sloan followed. Call it an assisted home run.
“I can’t believe it actually happened,” Burns said. He added: “When I hit that ball, I felt good about it, but I didn’t think it was going that far.”
Southold’s offense came through in a big way, starting with Zimmer, who had five RBIs from a 3-for-4 showing with a walk. McFarland knocked in three runs on 3-for-4 hitting. Burns had a double to go with his homer. Seven of Southold’s nine starters had at least one hit.
“I have to say, the kids really showed me a lot today,” said Carver, who had a bucket of water dumped over him by players during a postgame interview. “Losing that game Tuesday and then going down 3-nothing in the first inning like that, and then to come back, that says a lot about this team.”
Zimmer said, “We were just so focused on winning that nothing else mattered.”
Now Southold has a two-week break before its next game against the Nassau County champion in a regional semifinal on June 1 at SUNY/Old Westbury.
That’s a break Clausen welcomes. “Thank God,” he said. “A little rest.”
Photo caption: Southold players jump for joy after securing the team’s third straight county championship. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)