After the Southold baseball team’s final postgame meeting of the year in shallow rightfield, the disconsolate First Settlers headed back toward their team bench, but not before receiving a hearty round of applause and cheers from their fans.
“It’s always a great feeling to hear that from fans, so that’s always cool,” said senior first baseman Dylan Newman.
It was a greeting worthy of a champion. The thing was, a championship was lacking. That, along with the fact that Southold had played its final game of the year and its eight seniors had played the last game of their high school careers, were the sticking points.
With a 5-1 home defeat to third-seeded Pierson Friday, No. 2 seed Southold was knocked out of the Suffolk County Class C Tournament. The First Settlers had split their first two games in the double-elimination tournament, defeating Pierson Wednesday before falling to Port Jefferson Thursday. Southold took two of three games from Pierson during the regular season.
Pierson (14-7) advances to the best-of-three county finals, which start Monday against No. 1 Port Jefferson (17-2).
“I think the kids are disappointed because, you know, obviously we wanted to take counties this year but, I mean, we have played great all year long,” Southold coach Greg Tulley said. “The ball just didn’t bounce our way the last couple of days, and I’m really gonna miss this group.”
Thus the sadness that hung — along with the dark clouds that had brought a late-game drizzle — over Southold’s side of the field.
Pierson put up three runs in the first inning and tacked on two more in the sixth. Much of the Whalers’ damage was done with ground balls.
The first two batters of the game, Vinny Cavaniola and Christian Pantina, hit ground balls that found their way through the infield. They both later scored, Cavaniola on Reed Kelsey’s sacrifice fly and Pantina (along with Max Krotman), on Gavin Gilbride’s two-run single, which he bounced through the middle.
“He threw great,” Tulley said of Duffy. “Ground balls are supposed to be outs. I don’t think there was a single hard-hit ball in the inning. They had a sac fly and a bunch of ground balls. I mean, that’s a good inning for a pitcher. Ground balls just found holes.”
Southold turned in some ground-ball hits itself for its sole run in the third. Connor Wilinski sent a slow roller near the third-base line for a leadoff single and Jack Sepenoski struck an infield single that gave third baseman Charles Schaefer a nasty short hop. Duffy was intentionally walked to load the bases for Tom Cardi, whose bunt brought in the run.
Pierson made it 5-1 in the sixth. Kelsey belted a leadoff double to the leftfield fence and Krotman walked. Two wild pitches later, Kelsey touched home plate. Gilbride capped the scoring with his third RBI of the day, a single to right.
Pantina went 3-for-4 for Pierson, which received a solid outing from Daniel Labrozzi. In his complete-game win, Labrozzi gave up six hits, had nine strikeouts and did not walk a batter, except for the intentional pass to Duffy.
“They played very well,” said Newman, the only Southold player to get two hits. “I mean, can’t do anything about it.”
The SUNY/Oneonta-bound Duffy, meanwhile, had seven strikeouts and two walks, surrendering nine hits over the full seven innings. During one stretch from the first through the third innings, he retired seven straight batters.
Tulley, in his fifth year as Southold’s coach, said this is the most close-knit team he’s had.
“We definitely have like a bond that will never be broken,” Duffy said. “We grew up all playing Little League together, so everyone just kept playing and we just kept on getting closer and that got us to where we are today.”
Duffy, who completed his fifth varsity season, said, “I’ll remember this season for the rest of my life.”