The Southold First Settlers finally ran out of escape acts.
Time and time again during Southold’s New York State Class C baseball semifinal against Hoosic Valley, it got into jams, with runners on base, threatening to score. It happened in five separate innings, and each time the First Settlers and their starting pitcher, Alex Poliwoda, managed to escape unscathed.
Until the 10th inning.
Southold’s vaunted defense, which had come to the rescue so many times before, let the First Settlers down that inning when they uncharacteristically committed two errors, leading to two unearned runs.
Those were the only runs of the game as defending state champion Hoosic Valley prevailed in a marathon at Binghamton University on Saturday. Hoosic Valley (24-1) is to play for the state title later today. The Indians are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back state Class C titles since 1989.
Southold, which went 4-11 last year, finished a magical season in which it ended up with a 21-3 record. It is believed to have been the farthest the First Settlers had ever advanced in the playoffs.
The semifinal was a classic in the truest sense of the word, with two ace pitchers going head to head, some sparkling defense and even a rare hidden-ball trick that came at Southold’s expense.
The two stubborn teams forced extra innings, with Hoosic Valley finally striking in the top of the 10th. The first batter that inning, Jimmy Burnell, reached base on an infield error, stole second base and scored on a throwing error (Southold’s fourth of the game) after an infield single by Matt Espey (3 for 4). Later, Espey was brought home on a single by Jared Morello.
It was after that when Poliwoda (10-1) was pulled, having thrown 116 pitches, 78 for strikes, in nine and one-third innings. The right-hander gave up seven hits, walked two, struck out one and hit three batters. Southold coach Mike Carver told reporters afterward that it was the best pitching performance he had seen from Poliwoda in the senior’s four years on the team.
Hoosic Valley benefitted from some impressive pitching itself in the form of John Rooney (9-0), who has a career record of 35-0.
Rooney, a senior left-hander, fired 12 strikeouts over the course of his complete-game five-hitter. He walked three (Poliwoda twice intentionally) and hit a batter.
The game between the top two rated Class C teams by the New York State Sportswriters Association, lived up to expectations and then some. Southold was facing a powerhouse Hoosic Valley team that is 88-8 since 2012, according to the Albany Times Union.
Poliwoda had to work harder than his counterpart, though. He was under pressure several times:
In the first inning, Hoosic Valley had two runners on base with no outs, only to see Jared Morello fly into a 7-6-4 double play and Don Espey get thrown out trying to steal second base.
The Indians threatened again in the fifth when a beautiful blue sky emerged from behind the clouds along with the sun to brighten things up. A gutsy throw by Poliwoda to Greg Gehring for a fielder’s choice at third base brought Southold a big second out. Hoosic Valley then put two runners on base before Poliwoda fielded a grounder for the third out.
The next inning, an infield single by Matt Espey and some errors put two runners on with one out. No problem for Southold, though. Poliwoda got Rooney to ground into a double play.
A pattern was developing, and continued in the eighth when, once again, Hoosic Valley held first and second from a single by Dan Joslin and an intentional walk to Matt Espey. Then Don Espey hit a grounder that Gehring handled for a 5-5-3 double play, Southold’s third of the game.
The game moved onto the ninth. Morello reached out to poke a leadoff single. Hoosic Valley fans started chanting, “We want more! We want more!”
Poliwoda retired two batters before hitting two batters in a row, loading the bases. Then, with Joslin at the plate — would you believe it? — Poliwoda gloved a bouncer back to him and threw to first base for the third out.
Once again, danger averted.
But the game may be best remembered for a hidden-ball trick that worked in Southold’s half of the fifth. Dylan Clausen led off with a double. A promising beginning. That’s when Hoosic Valley resorted to some trickery that paid off big time. Rooney quickly swirled around and made a throwing motion toward second base as Clausen dove back to the bag. The middle infielders and the center fielder acted is if the ball had been thrown into center field. Clausen took off for third.
The only problem was that the ball was actually still in Rooney’s possession and he made the toss to the third baseman, Morello, for the easy out.
Could it be a momentum boost for Hoosic Valley?
If it was, it didn’t last long in a crazy game that saw momentum shifts go back and forth with regularity.
Then came the 10th. Would the First Settlers be able to get out of trouble yet again?
Not this time. Their season had come to an end on an immaculate field amid a beautiful setting.
Five escape acts and a hidden-ball trick. Who said baseball isn’t magical?