SUFFOLK CLASS C FINALS, GAME 1 | WHALERS 1, FIRST SETTLERS 0
The two baseball players who some consider to be the best in League IX were clearly the best players in the opening game of the Suffolk County Class C finals. And they’re both pitchers.
A classic pitcher’s duel ended in a double two-hitter as well as a 1-0 victory for Pierson/Bridgehampton and its ace, Colman Vila, over Southold and its ace, Kyle Clausen, on Wednesday.
Both pitchers were exceptional in the first game of the best-of-three series at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. Vila (8-0), a junior left-hander, had eight strikeouts and walked two as part of his efficient 71-pitch outing. Clausen (6-4), a senior right-hander, had five strikeouts, one walk and hit a batter. The two hurlers, who both said they expected a pitching duel, even made big fielding plays to help their sides.
But Vila had something that Clausen didn’t — a run in his team’s favor.
Defensive miscues and a critical baserunning mistake by Southold helped the League IX champion Whalers (19-2) to their eighth straight win and fourth in five games against Southold (13-8) this year, moving them to within one win of a county title. That win could come tomorrow when the teams meet again in Game 2 in Southold. The First Settlers need to win that game in order to force a third game on Tuesday in Sag Harbor.
One of Southold’s four errors cost the First Settlers the game’s only run in the third inning. With runners on first and second from a Kyle Sturmann walk and a Hunter Leyser single, Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Forest Loesch stepped into the batter’s box with one out. Clausen got Loesch to knock a bouncer back to him for what looked like a sure double play, but because of an infielder’s throwing error, Southold got only one out on the play and Leyser raced home for the vital run.
“I kind of wish that one inning could just go away,” said Clausen.
But even with that, Southold still had a chance to come back. For all of his pitching prowess, it was an alert fielding play by Vila that may have earned him the win more than anything else.
Luke Hokanson of Southold led off the sixth inning by reaching base on a fielding error. Rob Mahony then bunted. As Vila fielded the bunt, he noticed that Hokanson had turned around second base and was charging to third. Instead of making the safe throw to first base, Vila kept his poise and made a gutsy play, firing the ball to third baseman Jake Bennett for the big out.
The play stood out even more since the next batter, Clausen, scorched a single that the second baseman, Sturmann, couldn’t stop.
It was a reminder of the impact one play can have on a game — or a series.
“You make one mistake, and that’s the game, and that’s exactly what happened today,” Southold coach Mike Carver said. “I have to chalk some of it up to youth. You know, those are freshmen and sophomores out there, but that’s what makes the difference between winning and losing. They’re going to eat themselves alive tonight thinking about that.”
Such is the nature of playoff baseball. It’s also the nature of the game that good performances are not always rewarded. Because of Southold’s inability to scratch out a run, Clausen took a loss he didn’t deserve. Carver called it the best game that Clausen has ever pitched. “He pitched a gem, the best he’s ever thrown — by far,” said Carver.
Clausen had worked on his curveball the preceding weekend and mixed it in with four-seam and two-seam fastballs as well as an occasional slider. “I had everything working,” he said.
But so did Vila.
Before Vila took the mound for his first playoff start and the biggest game he has pitched in, Pierson/Bridgehampton coach Jon Tortorella had a question for him, “Are you ready?”
Vila’s pitching arm provided an answer words alone couldn’t match. After Hokanson opened the game by sending a two-strike pitch to right field for a single, Vila buckled down.
“I kept the ball low in the zone,” he said. “My curveball was there, and probably the most important thing was my changeup.”
What was Tortorella’s assessment of his pitcher’s game?
“Awesome. Awesome,” the coach said. “We knew he’d do that. He commands the zone well. We are confident when he is on the mound big time, and I think he turns it up even more for bigger games like this.”