Let the virtual playoffs begin

Andrew Conway drove in four runs for Southold in its series-opening win over Port Jefferson.

The high school baseball regular season had not even ended, and yet the playoffs have already begun. At least for these two teams.

With the start of their regular-season-ending Suffolk County League VIII series on Monday, both the Port Jefferson Royals and the Southold First Settlers effectively began their playoffs with a three-game set that will send one team into the postseason and the other home. Both Class C teams entered the series needing to take two wins in order to secure a playoff berth.

Score the first round in Southold’s favor.

Monday’s game went Southold’s way as it beat Port Jefferson, 7-3, at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. Andrew Conway, a junior third baseman, drove in four runs in the game, which saw ejections issued to Southold first baseman John Dunne and Port Jefferson Coach Jesse Rosen.

“I think it just puts some intensity into these next two games,” Port Jefferson third baseman Ryan Ward said. “I think there’s a little blood boiling.”

Perhaps the huge playoff implications surrounding this series had something to do with it, but the game was intense and played with heated emotion from start to finish.

“It was unbelievable,” Conway said. “It was a whole different world.”

Dunne’s ejection came in the bottom of the first inning. He was tossed for running into Port Jefferson first baseman Alex Ruback, who tagged him out on a groundout and was sent tumbling backward when the two collided along the baseline.

Rosen’s ejection came after a busy play in the sixth. An infield single by Ward scored a Port Jefferson run, and after the ball was thrown to third base in an attempt to get a runner out, Ward broke for second and was called out on a close play for the third out. Rosen, who was acting as the third-base coach at the time, tossed his helmet in the air and charged onto the field to protest the call. That action apparently led to his dismissal.

Southold shortstop Darrin Standish, who made the tag, was hurt on the play, but remained in the game. Southold Coach Mike Carver said Standish had cleats marks on his left thigh.

Because of the ejections, Dunne and Rosen will both have to sit out the second game of the series, which was postponed by rain to yesterday in Peconic. The third game of the series is set for today in Port Jefferson.

“There’s definitely plenty of pressure, more than we probably felt the whole season, but both teams are feeling it,” Ward said. “We’re just trying to play loose.”

No one had a more productive day than Conway, the cleanup hitter who gave his side leads of 4-1 and 7-3 with a pair of two-run singles.

“Those are huge runs, huge runs,” said Carver, whose team improved to 7-8, 7-6 in the league. “He can hit. He’s probably been one of the most consistent, hard-hitting players this year. He can hit the ball hard.”

Shaun Hansen (4-1), the winning pitcher, lasted six innings before being relieved by Kyle Clausen. Hansen gave up nine hits, five walks and struck out six. At the plate, Hansen delivered a pair of doubles, one of which knocked in a run, and walked twice (once intentionally) in addition to stealing a base.

Drew Crovello and Ward both had three hits apiece for Port Jefferson (7-9, 6-7), and Ward knocked in two runs, one from a triple. But the Royals were hurt by leaving 12 runners on base. They hit 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position. “We left too many runners on base,” Crovello said. “We can’t strand runners like that.”

A good deal is at stake in this series for both teams. Southold has qualified for the postseason for 11 straight years and wants to extend that streak to 12.

“On paper, this team is a playoff team,” Carver said. “What they do once they cross the line, the chalk, is a whole another thing.”

Spread the word. The playoffs have begun.

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