Will the real warriors, please stand up?
In one dugout we have the Long Island Road Warriors, whose nickname speaks for itself. Across from them, in the other dugout, we have the Riverhead Tomcats, who have shown the warrior spirit through their play.
By tomorrow evening, the ultimate warriors will be crowned.
Last year, as an expansion team, the Road Warriors won the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League championship. The Tomcats are the only one of the league’s seven active teams to have never won a league title.
If the Road Warriors are to repeat as champions, they can expect quite a fight on their hands, given what the Tomcats did in Game 2 of the championship series Tuesday.
Even in defeat, the Tomcats demonstrated how dangerous they can be when cornered. Despite trailing 11-5 through eight innings at Southampton High School, the Tomcats mounted a five-run rally in the top of the ninth inning. A pair of two-run homers by Eduardo Malinowski and Matt Daller, sandwiched around an RBI double by Connor Echols, pulled the Tomcats to within 11-10 with two outs. Miles Kelly of Mattituck was sent up as a pinch hitter with Josh Greene on first base, but reliever Brandon LaManna struck him out to end it.
The result forces a decisive third game tomorrow at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton.
“These guys, they come back,” Tomcats coach John Galanoudis said. “They’re ready to go no matter what, and I know there’s a ton of fight in these guys.”
This has all the promise of being a special season for the Tomcats, who finished the regular season in first place for the first time in their 10-year history. They earned the top seed in the playoffs and picked up their first postseason win in six years. Now, they’re on the verge of capping their greatest season ever with a coveted championship. The club had reached the championship series twice before — in 2010 and 2012.
“I don’t think our team rolls over for people,” Daller said. “We have a lot of confidence.”
And a lot of firepower. Of the 29 hits in Tuesday’s slugfest, 17 came off Riverhead bats.
Through four innings, the only hit the Road Warriors had was Eric Roubal’s three-run homer that was followed over the fence by the diving leftfielder, Echols, in the second inning.
Two North Forkers play for the Road Warriors — second baseman Marcos Perivolaris of Mattituck and rightfielder Matt Stepnoski of Southold. They both made contributions to the Long Island win. Perivolaris robbed Chris Stefl (3-for-5, two RBIs) of a hit in the first inning, running to his left in shallow centerfield before making a diving catch for the third out. He also lined a single in the seventh. One of Stepnoski’s two hits was a bounced single that brought him two of his seven RBIs in the playoffs.
In many ways it was a close game, but the Tomcats ran into a bad inning. A really bad inning.
It came in the fifth. The Road Warriors sent 13 batters to the plate and put up seven runs. Stepnoski’s two-run hit came during that surge, which also included a two-run single by Thomas Colombo, an RBI single by Roubal (3-for-5, four RBIs) and bases-loaded walks by Ben McNeill and Patrick Lagravinese.
Joe Valentino, one of five pitchers used by the Road Warriors, was credited with the win, throwing three innings of four-hit relief and allowing one unearned run.
The way the Tomcats turned a game that appeared on the verge of a runaway into a thriller had to be chilling for the Road Warriors.
So, at this point, is this exciting or nerve-wracking for the Tomcats?
“It’s definitely exciting, but we’re all college athletes, so I think we all know how to handle pressure, and we’re all ready for it,” said Daller.
What’s the Tomcats’ mindset heading into Game 3?
“At this point, you got to win,” Stefl said. “You’ve gone this far, you might as well win it.”
Spoken like a true warrior.
Photo caption: Matt Daller is congratulated by Chris Stefl after his two-run homer in the ninth inning pulled Riverhead to within 11-10 of Long Island. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)