Nicholas comes through in clutch for Clippers in 8th

It was a test of their grit, resilience and heart.

The Southold First Settlers baseball team, fresh off a heartbreaking home loss the day before, pulled out a dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 eighth-inning victory over the Center Moriches Red Devils on Friday night, under the lights at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. C.J. Nicholas ripped a run-scoring double that scored Kyle Clausen with the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“This was such a huge win for us,” Southold Coach Mike Carver said. “If we had lost, we would’ve had to sweep Port Jefferson next week to keep our playoff streak alive.”

The First Settlers (6-8, 6-6 in Suffolk County League VIII) have made the postseason every year since 2000.

Southold battled back the entire game. Trailing by 1-0 in the second, the First Settlers tied the score when Nicholas doubled home Clausen. After the Red Devils moved ahead, 3-1, in the fifth, Darrin Standish trimmed the deficit to one in the bottom of the inning with a solo homer.

Southold then tied the score in the seventh. Aidan Fogarty led off with a walk, moved to second on a passed ball, went to third after Nicholas and Shaun Hansen walked, and scored the tying run on Andrew Conway’s infield single.

That set the stage for Nicholas’ heroics in the eighth. Clausen singled and Fogarty sacrifice bunted him to second. Nicholas then delivered the game-winning double.

Hansen got the win, pitching all eight innings. He scattered five hits and struck out 10.

“Shaun pitched a solid game,” Carver said. “He threw hard and had the slider, curve and change-up working. He had real good control.”

The Red Devils took the first two games of the series, winning 8-3 at home in the opener last Wednesday, then outscoring the First Settlers, 10-6, in eight innings last Thursday in Peconic.

Center Moriches (7-5, 7-2) broke open a 2-1 game in the bottom of the third on Dylan Simpson’s two-run homer off of Standish in the first game. Chris Denton scattered eight hits and fanned six to get the win.

The next day, Simpson beat Southold with his bat and his arm. His run-scoring double in the top of the eighth snapped a 6-6 tie and propelled the Red Devils to the win.

Center Moriches rallied to tie the score in the seventh on Jeff Forster’s run-scoring single. Forster finished the game with five hits and three runs batted in. Joe Gonzalez had four hits for Center Moriches, while Simpson drove in four runs and pitched two and a third innings in relief to earn the win.

Standish belted a grand slam in the third to give Southold a 4-1 lead. After the Red Devils had evened the score at 4-4, Hansen smacked a solo homer in the sixth and Clausen added an RBI single.

But in the eighth, Clausen, Southold’s starting pitcher, began to tire and was replaced by Nicholas, who took the loss.

“Kyle pitched a great game,” Carver said. “We should have won. This was a lost opportunity we let get away. A win would’ve been huge.”

Now, after a bye week this week, the First Settlers need to take two of the three games next week against the Port Jefferson Royals (7-8, 6-6) to keep their playoff streak alive.

“If we had lost that last game to Center Moriches, we would’ve had to sweep Port Jefferson,” Carver said. “It was a huge win for us. We started the season slow. We weren’t clicking. Now, our one-through-nine batters are hitting the ball well. That is so huge for us. Now we just need to take two next week.”