PORT JEFFERSON STATION — Port Jefferson matched Bishop McGann-Mercy’s first four-run rally, but could not overcome a second.
The Royals scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the score. After the Monarchs scored four more in the eighth, the Royals answered with two runs and were threatening to tie the score again. With runners on second and third with two outs, a base hit would have tied it at 11, but it was not to be.
Chris Esposito’s fly ball settled into Pat Stepnoski’s glove in center field for the final out and, finally, the Monarchs could enjoy a sustained celebration without having to worry about what was coming next. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was 5 to just right now,” Monarchs Coach Ed Meier said. “I’m not the oldest guy in the world, but I’ve never seen baseball like that.”
After checking to make sure his heart was still beating, Meier joined his players to bask in an 11-9, eight-inning victory at Port Jefferson High School, and with it a Suffolk County Class C championship. With that, McGann-Mercy earned the right to face Friends Academy in a Southeast Region semifinal on June 6 at Farmingdale State College.
With the final out secured, Stepnoski said he told the winning pitcher, Joe Crosser: “‘Good job. You were killing me out there with all these [walks], driving me nuts.”
It was not the first time Stepnoski felt exasperated. With one out in the top of the seventh and the Monarchs trailing by 4-3, he skied a pop up toward right field. The ball bounced into and then out of the second baseman’s mitt and fell to the infield dirt.
“Once I got on base, I was like: ‘I’m scoring. I’ve got to get in,’ ” Stepnoski said. “Going down to first, before he dropped it, I was not very happy.”
After Tom Tenaglia singled for the Monarchs (14-6), Port Jefferson Coach Jesse Rosen pulled his starter, Sean McGivney. Esposito came on in relief and threw six straight balls, including one that hit Chris Sachalk in the hip to load the bases for Rocco Pascale. Esposito got one strike past Pascale, but not a second. Pascale launched a 2-1 pitch over the right-center-field fence for a grand slam to give the Monarchs a 7-4 lead.
“When I hit it, I was so excited,” Pascale said. “Coming up with the bases loaded, I’m just looking to hit a fly ball because a sacrifice fly, that ties the game. Yesterday I had a good game hitting, so they were trying to pitch curveballs to me. But he got behind in the count and had to throw a fastball.”
The dugout emptied as the Monarchs greeted Pascale at home plate. It was their first slightly premature celebration. In the bottom of the inning, reliever Al Yakabowski walked two of the first three batters he faced, bringing Billy Crowe to the plate for the Royals (9-11).
Crowe had hit one home run all season, but his second could not have come at a better time. It barely cleared the fence, but when it did, the Monarchs’ lead was gone. “Obviously, that deflates us,” Meier said. “You’re thinking, ‘Oh my goodness.’ “
The situation worsened. Yakabowski followed the home run by issuing a walk to the last batter he faced. Meier replaced him with Crosser, who then had troubles of his own. He gave up a bunt single and another walk to load the bases with one out. But a strikeout and flyout ended the Royals’ first threat.
Crosser then came to bat to start the eighth and walked. He went to third on Keith Schroeher’s double and both scored on Connor Stepnoski’s single to center field.
Then Pat Stepnoski stepped to the plate. He lined an 0-2 fastball over the left-field fence to put the Monarchs ahead, 11-7. “It turned out that we needed it,” Pat Stepnoski said.
After a pop out to start the bottom of the eighth, Crosser walked three of the next four batters. An error with two outs scored two of them and put the tying run at second base. That was as close as the Royals got, though.
“Their willingness to come back and believe in themselves is something that I think will transcend the baseball field,” Rosen said. “Obviously that’s not something that they’re going to realize in the immediate future. If you look in the dugout you can certainly see it. I think in time they’ll realize that they’re people capable of overcoming adversity and that’s what life’s about.”
Several Royals were still in the home dugout, some slumped over, some with their uniforms slightly unbuttoned, all trying to come to grips with the end of their season.