SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS C TOURNAMENT | ROYALS 10, FIRST SETTLERS 3
It was a fairly even high school baseball game — except for that one devastating inning.
Third-seeded Port Jefferson erupted for eight runs in the third inning, paving the way for a 10-3 victory that knocked No. 2 Southold out of the double-elimination Suffolk County Class C Tournament on Thursday at Southold High School.
Port Jefferson (7-13), which petitioned for and was granted a waiver to compete in the playoffs, advances to a game against No. 1 Pierson/Bridgehampton on Saturday in Sag Harbor. If Pierson/Bridgehampton wins that game, it will be crowned a county champion for the second year in a row. If Port Jefferson wins, the teams will meet again on the same field Tuesday for the title.
The bulk of the damage done by Port Jefferson’s bats came in that third inning.
“It’s ironic because that’s what we did to them,” said Southold third baseman Rob Mahony, referring to a 10-run shelling in the sixth inning of a 15-7 win over Port Jefferson in the first playoff game for both teams six days earlier. “We got a taste of our own medicine.”
It was bitter, too.
The Royals picked up seven of their 10 hits during that crippling third-inning rally, which featured two-run singles by Erik Esposito and Joe Booker. By the end of the inning in which Port Jefferson made 12 plate appearances, the score was 10-0.
“We needed to hit, and we hit,” said Booker, the winning pitcher who allowed two hits and no runs over three innings.
Southold’s starting pitcher, Alex Poliwoda, celebrated his 16th birthday. A playoff win would have been a fine birthday gift, but it wasn’t in the cards. He was relieved by Anthony Fedele after three innings.
“We didn’t have our ‘A’ game today,” Southold coach Mike Carver said. He added: “One bad inning. Poli didn’t have his stuff today, and it happens. He’s a young pitcher, and some days you got it, and some days you don’t.”
Another thing the First Settlers didn’t have was their first-string center fielder, Shayne Johnson. Johnson broke his left wrist two days earlier, the result of a terrible fall he suffered after dunking a basketball. The sophomore watched the game from the bench, wearing his team jersey as well as a cast on his arm.
Anthony Esposito, who usually plays left field or third base, was moved to center field, and played well, catching two fly balls.
Meanwhile, Port Jefferson also took the field without one of its regular starters. James Tsunic, a second baseman, was hit in the head by a ball during pregame warmups, and sat out.
Regardless, Port Jefferson enjoyed good offensive production, with seven of its players getting at least one hit. Booker, Erik Esposito and Mark Acardo each had two runs batted in for the game. Erik Esposito also scored three times.
Southold (14-9) plated all of its runs in the sixth inning, two of them coming from Mahony’s second hit of the game, a double to center field. Shortly after that, Mahony scored Southold’s third run on a groundout by Anthony Esposito.
Port Jefferson is an underdog. The Royals, who played primarily against Class B competition in League VIII, petitioned to get into the playoffs, and now they are two wins away from a county title. That will not be easy, though. Those two wins will have to come against Pierson/Bridgehampton, and on the Whalers’ home field at Mashashimuet Park.
If nothing else, though, Port Jefferson’s victory on Thursday justified its placement in the playoffs.
Over the course of the regular season, Port Jefferson posted quality wins over two Class B playoff teams, Center Moriches and Babylon.
“I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” Port Jefferson coach Jesse Rosen said. “There wasn’t really a feeling throughout the later portion of our season that we weren’t going to be in the playoffs.”
Southold will lose only three seniors: Dillon Engels, Preston Jolliver and Rob Patchell. Engels was the only starter among them.
The team is looking forward to good things next year, especially with the development of young players like the athletic Johnson, Poliwoda and freshman infielder Noah Mina.
“Noah Mina was probably the biggest, pleasant surprise of the year,” Carver said. “Wow, what an infielder.”
Mahony said: “We had some skill and we had a lot of effort. That’s why we got to where we got.”
Anthony Esposito said it was a “great” season for Southold. “Unfortunately, we had that one unfortunate inning.”