For a lesson in how far a high school baseball team can go from one season to the next, we present to you the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs.
Yes, it was the Monarchs who went 9-11 last year, petitioned for a playoff spot and were denied. This year the Monarchs reached the Long Island final, also known as the Southeast Region Class C semifinals.
“Yeah, it’s pretty surprising,” conceded pitcher/outfielder Al Yakabowski.
What is really interesting about that, though, is they made this considerable jump pretty much with the same cast of players. Discounting players brought up from the junior varsity team for the playoffs, the only new players the Monarchs had this season were second baseman Joe Crosser and role players Will Affourtit and D. J. Willmott.
One could easily understand, then, why opponents may have overlooked the Monarchs this year.
“They overachieved,” Coach Ed Meier said of his players. “I think they got the most out of their abilities, pitching, fielding, hitting. I think they rose to the occasion.”
Until Sunday, that is.
On Sunday there were two primary questions hanging over the neat field turf at Farmingdale State College’s baseball field: 1. Would the threat of thunderstorms materialize as wind gusts pushed some scary looking clouds beyond the outfield fence? 2. Would the Monarchs be able to extend their season at least another game with a victory over the Friends Academy Quakers?
The answer to both questions was no.
Friends Academy, which is located in Locust Valley, brought an 8-12 record into the game, but judging the Quakers by their record can be a tricky thing. That is because the Quakers play virtually all of their regular-season games against bigger schools.
This year the Quakers had to deal with a lot of injuries. During one stretch, four regular starters were out. “We were running on empty for a while,” said Friends pitcher Sam Harrington.
That must have seemed like a long time ago, though. On Sunday the Quakers filled up their tank with absolute joy. Energized by a grand slam by Chris Crowley, two double plays early in the game and a five-hitter by Harrington, Friends turned in a 7-2 victory for its third Long Island championship.
“I didn’t want this to be my last game ever, so to win today is special,” said Crowley, a senior catcher.
Crowley’s fourth home run of the year broke open the game, snapping a 1-1 tie in the top of the third inning.
“That hurt us really bad,” McGann-Mercy left fielder Connor Stepnoski said. “After that they kind of dominated.”
It was just an inning earlier when the Monarchs loaded the bases with one out, threatening to take the lead. But Harrington got Crosser to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. No damage done, to Friends at least.
Meanwhile, Harrington got his job done, going the distance for his seventh win in eight decisions. His numbers were anything but flashy — seven walks, three strikeouts — but he buckled down when he needed to. McGann-Mercy left eight runners on base.
“He gutted it out,” said Marshall Lindner, Friends’ genial coach. “This is a typical Harrington performance. Sam, he changes speeds, he throws strikes, gets some ground balls and he just hangs in there.”
After the game, a fan presented a black and white cake to Lindner, who celebrated his 61st birthday. Just another reason for him to remember this day.
The scene was understandably sedate in the McGann-Mercy dugout after the game. Sure, the Monarchs had claimed their second Suffolk County championship in four years and finished up with a respectable 14-7 record, but they also say goodbye to five seniors. Chris Sachak, the only remaining player from McGann-Mercy’s previous county champion team in 2007, is moving on along with the other seniors — Iain Traynor, Stepnoski, Tom Tenaglia and Yakabowski.
“They were pumped,” Meier said of his players. “They were ready to go. It’s an experience they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”
After the game, standing outside the entrance to the field, Lindner received birthday wishes and congratulations from fans. A reporter had another question for him: How good a team does Friends have?
“I think we’re still finding out,” Lindner said. “That’s the only answer I can give.”