The Southold High School baseball team turned its regular season around. Now the First Settlers need to turn their playoffs around.
After a rough start to the season, Southold’s young players found their way. The team had won 11 of 14 games going into its Suffolk County Class C Tournament game against Pierson/Bridgehampton on Tuesday.
The other side of that coin, though, was Pierson. In the four regular-season meetings between the teams, League IX champion Pierson had won them all. Most of those games weren’t close. The scores were 12-1, 14-5, 8-0 and 5-2.
Pierson is now 5-0 against Southold for the year. With its 10-1 defeat of the defending county champion First Settlers Tuesday, No. 1 seed Pierson is one win away from the county championship.
No. 3 Southold (11-11), meanwhile, will face No. 2 Bishop McGann-Mercy in an elimination game Wednesday. The winner of that game will play Pierson for the title Thursday and, if needed, Friday.
“I feel like we didn’t play to our top level, really,” Southold senior Luke Hansen said after Tuesday’s game in the rain at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. “We didn’t hit the ball as well as we should. I thought we could have put up way more runs against [Pierson pitcher Sam] Warne. I thought we didn’t play as sharp in the field. We made some poor defensive plays at inconvenient times. We just got to get back tomorrow and improve those things. I know we’re capable of playing better.”
Pierson (20-2) cruised to its eighth straight win, limiting Southold to four hits — singles by Billy Burns, Hansen, Connor Wilinski and Tom Cardi.
Those hits and Southold’s only run came off Warne, who had two walks and two strikeouts over six innings before Max Mensch took the ball for the seventh inning.
Pierson totaled 10 hits off Southold pitchers Brendan Duffy, Nick Eckhardt and Michael Daddona.
The Whalers built an 8-0 lead through four innings before Southold ended the shutout bid. Wilinski and Cardi both belted singles past third baseman Tucker Schiavoni to lead off the fifth before Eric Connolly brought in the run on a groundout.
Southold also had four miscues in the field that didn’t help matters.
“What it comes down to is we made some mistakes in the field and we didn’t put the bat on the ball,” said Southold coach Greg Tulley.
That wasn’t a problem for Pierson, though, particularly Nick Egbert (3-for-4, two runs, RBI, stolen base) and Tyler LaBorne (2-for-2, three RBIs, stolen base), who was twice intentionally walked. Cooper Schiavoni drove in four runs, three on a bases-clearing double he slugged over the head of the rightfielder, Connolly, in the second.
LaBorne slapped an RBI single and Cooper Schiavoni supplied a sacrifice fly for two runs in the first.
“One through nine, they’re great,” Burns said of the Whalers. “Their fielding, there’s not a hole in their infield or outfield. They’re all just technically sound. They make all the plays, and I think that really helps with them. And their hitting — they’re definitely a very good hitting team.”
“They put out good at-bats, one through nine, pretty much,” he said. “They battle. They can hit the ball, and they got pitchers who throw strikes. Sometimes that can be overwhelming for us, but they’re beatable and I think we just need to grind it out more.”
Clean defense and clutch hitting is what sent Southold on its 11-3 tear. Some of that was evident when Southold defeated Mercy in its playoff opener Friday. It was an 11-inning thriller in which Duffy’s two-out double in the 11th proved to be the difference for a 3-1 triumph. Hansen fired a career-high 18 strikeouts over eight innings.
What does Southold’s mindset need to be against Mercy?
“We want to score as early as possible,” Hansen said. “We tried to do that today, it just hasn’t been working out for us, but we got to put bats on balls and get guys on early, work the pitch count.”
Tulley said, “We’re playing Mercy tomorrow and we got to have a short-term memory.”
Photo caption: Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Matt Hall steals second base in the second inning while Southold shortstop Jake Okula awaits the throw. (Credit: Garret Meade)