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Baseball: Southold passes ‘C’ mantle to Pierson

It has been a whale of a high school baseball season for Pierson/Bridgehampton. At the same time, it wasn’t a bad season for Southold, either.

In Southold’s case, it was a matter of entering the season with only three returning players from last year in Luke Hansen, Billy Burns and Joe Hayes. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, the First Settlers lost their first seven games of the season. Somehow, Southold managed to put the pieces together under its new coach, Greg Tulley, and qualify for the playoffs.

But the Suffolk County Class C mantle has been passed. Southold, winner of the last three county titles, was unseated by Pierson on Thursday. The Whalers turned in another all-around performance, beating Southold for the second time in three days, 9-4, to win the double-elimination tournament.

Pierson had won the county title from 2012-14 before Southold went on a tear, compiling a 62-10 record over the succeeding three years.

It looked as if the Settlers might be in for a terrible fall this year, given their lack of varsity experience. On Thursday, for example, Southold played with three eighth-graders (first baseman Brendan Duffy, rightfielder Tom Cardi and second baseman Connor Wilinski), a freshman (leftfielder John Kaelin) and a sophomore (third baseman Nick Eckhardt) who started every game.

Now that’s young.

So, the Settlers couldn’t feel too bad after pitcher Tyler LaBorne got Duffy to fly out for the final out, prompting a dogpile near the pitcher’s mound at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. It was a season that exceeded the expectations of some.

“You got to look at the big picture here,” Tulley said. “We have a [team] filled with underclassmen and we were [playing for] the Suffolk County title right there, so I would definitely say the season was a success. Obviously, you want to keep winning. You don’t want the season to end, but I think we did a great job.”

Southold shortstop Jake Okula said, “Of course we wanted more, but we have to look back and say, ‘That was very impressive, especially after a start [to the season] like that.’ ”

If it’s any consolation, Southold will not have to see Pierson again until next season. The third-seeded Settlers went 0-6 this year against the No. 1 Whalers. Pierson (21-2), winner of nine straight, will play a regional semifinal against the Nassau County champion May 31 at St. Joseph’s College Athletic Complex.

Young Southold (12-12) had won 12 of its previous 15 games.

Pierson struck hard early with two three-run rallies for a 6-1 lead through two innings. Sam Warne scored on a dropped fly ball and Oliver Kirwin knocked a two-run single in the first. The second inning featured a Warne RBI double and a bloop RBI single by Tom Brooks. In between those hits, Pierson traded an out for a run as Nick Egbert got caught in a rundown between first and second while Warne scored from third.

“I definitely started off slow on the mound,” said Burns, who pitched the entire game. “I couldn’t find my stuff right away.”

Pierson stretched its lead to 8-1 in the fourth when Warne and Egbert scored on groundouts.

Memory of their 10-1 loss to Pierson two days earlier must have been fresh in the Settlers’ minds. Southold closed the gap with Burns smacking a two-run single in the fifth and then socking an RBI double in the seventh to complete his 3-for-4 day with three RBIs.

“I think that really showed what type of team we were, that when we were down 8-1, we still fought and made it a closer game,” Burns said. “I think that really kind of describes our season that even when we’re down, we’re still fighting.”

Southold was without Hansen, who Tulley said was ejected the day before in a 3-2 victory over Bishop McGann-Mercy. The Settlers also had to deal with the solid pitching of LaBorne, who went the distance, allowing two earned runs and six hits. He had six strikeouts, walked two and hit a batter.

The play of the game, unquestionably, was a spectacular diving catch by Pierson third baseman Tucker Schiavoni, who laid out to his left, nabbing a line drive by Eckhardt for the third out in the sixth.

“Pierson is a very well put together team,” Okula said. “From top to bottom, these guys can all play ball, and you got to respect that.”

Pierson is undeniably the team of the present. Southold hopes to be the team of the future, and why not? That future looks bright.

“We knew the talent that we had on the team, it was just a matter of coming together and becoming one,” Okula said. “The younger kids, they play summer ball, they play fall ball. They play year round. They’re only going to get better. All I have to say is watch out for Southold.”

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Photo caption: Southold pitcher Billy Burns delivers a pitch during the team’s 9-4 loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor. (Credit: Bob Liepa)