SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS C FINALS, GAME 1 | FIRST SETTLERS 5, WHALERS 4 (8 INNINGS)
ESPN would not have hesitated to label it an instant classic.
Southold twice battled back to tie the score before triumphing, 5-4, over Pierson/Bridgehampton on Liam Walker’s two-out, two-strike walkoff single in the bottom of the eighth inning in the opening game of the Suffolk County Class C baseball finals on Wednesday.
“It was pretty amazing to watch,” said Southold’s coach, Mike Carver, who called it the most exciting game he has ever been involved in.
In addition to Walker’s hot bat, the top-seeded First Settlers (19-2) were also aided by a potentially game-saving catch in center field by Shayne Johnson and strong pitching by Alex Poliwoda down the stretch.
After Poliwoda retired the side in order (the first two batters on strikeouts) in the eighth, the First Settlers went to bat, with the score tied at 4-4 in the bottom half of the inning.
Greg Gehring led off with a single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Luke Hansen. After an intentional walk to Johnson, Pat McFarland popped up to the first baseman. That set the stage for Walker, who stepped into the batter’s box.
“Mr. Consistency,” said Carver.
Walker took a team-leading .507 batting average with him into the game. That average rose as completed a 3-for-5 day by singling up the middle to score the winning run. It was Southold’s 10th straight win since a 6-4 loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton on April 22. Southold is 4-1 against the Whalers this year.
Walker usually bats in the eighth spot in the order, but Carver moved him into the third slot to protect the cleanup hitter, Poliwoda.
“It worked out,” Carver said. “Walker, he made me look like a genius today.”
“It was crazy,” said Carver, who watched his players pile on top of each other in celebration.
The First Settlers can take the best-of-three series with a win in the second game Thursday at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. Should a third game be necessary, it would be played Friday in Southold.
Pierson/Bridgehampton (14-7) was unfortunate not to have taken the lead in the eighth. John Chisholm connected on a bomb to center field that looked like a sure leadoff triple. That, however, didn’t take into account the speed of Johnson, who read the ball well off the bat and raced like a deer before laying out for a diving over-the-shoulder catch. “The best catch I’ve seen in high school baseball,” said Carver.
Both teams put up two runs each in the first. The First Settlers loaded the bases on a two-out double by Walker, a single by Poliwoda and a walk by Noah Mina. Then Sean Moran struck a single that was worth two runs.
Pierson/Bridgehampton regained its two-run lead in the second. The score remained 4-2 until the sixth when Gehring reached base on an error, Johnson singled and a fielder’s choice by Hansen advanced them to second and third. McFarland then knocked a two-out single to right field, scoring them both.
Poliwoda (9-0), who went the distance on the mound, allowed five hits and four walks in the first four innings. After that, he didn’t give up any more hits or walks and struck out four.
Carver said he had told his players in the top of the eighth that they were built for winning games like this. Later, he explained: “It’s their approach. They are very level-headed for the most part. They are very focused. Somehow they get it done.”