On paper, the New York State Class C Regional Final on Saturday was a mismatch. The Tuckahoe Tigers, champions of Section I (Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester), entered the game at 21-4 and were fresh off a dominant 4-0 victory over Pine Plains two days earlier.
The Pierson Whalers, on the other hand, were just 5-12 this season and hadn’t played a game in 21 days. Oh, and there was also the small business of having the prom on Friday night.
But any energy that might have been lost at the Pierson High School prom was a non-factor on Saturday as a calm and determined team of Whalers took the field at Pace University in Pleasantville. Junior Matt Hall started the game for Pierson and went the distance in a 5-2 victory that was nearly flawless on the defensive side and full of opportunistic baseball from the plate.
After falling behind, 1-0 early, Pierson scored two runs in the third inning, one in the fourth and two more in the top of the fifth. Hall allowed just one hit over the last three innings to slam the door on the Tigers.
“We knew we played better competition all year and we knew we could come in and win this game and that’s exactly what we did,” said Pierson senior Cooper Schiavoni, who made three stellar defensive plays behind Hall at shortstop. “We played as a team, we made all the plays defensively and we came out on top.”
Pierson will play Cooperstown (19-4) from Section III (Central New York) in a state semifinal at Maine-Endwell High School near Binghamton this Friday, June 14, at 5 p.m., with the winner playing for the state title the following day against the winner of the Ticonderoga and Gananda Central, who will play in the other semifinal at 2 p.m. on Friday.
The last Pierson team to go this deep in the playoffs was the 2014 Whalers, who went all the way to the state final before coming up short of the ultimate prize with a 7-2 loss to Hoosic Valley in the championship game. Despite its success as a program, Pierson has never won a state baseball title.
“We need to make sure we know all our signs, all our strategies, get enough swings and get some rest,” Pierson coach Jonathan Schwartz, who is in his second season at the helm of the program, said when he was asked about the week ahead. “I think we’ll be even more relaxed going into next weekend.”
Tuckahoe started its ace lefthander Matt Mondrone in the Regional Semifinal against Pine Plains from Section IX (Orange, Sullivan, Ulster) on Thursday, June 6, so the Tigers turned to freshman Mike Myers to start against Pierson on Saturday. After a pair of 1-2-3 innings to start the game, Pierson’s Dan Labrozzi reached on a walk to lead off the third, which Harry Cowen followed with a single. A sacrifice bunt from eighth-grader Christian Pantina set the stage for RBIs from Nick Egbert and Hall that gave Pierson its first lead.
Pierce Summers led off the fourth inning with an infield single and came around to score on a single by senior Max Mensch. Myers was removed from the game in the fourth inning and was replaced by junior Jonathan Berger. Pantina and Egbert scored runs off Berger in the fifth inning and Hall took care of the rest.
“I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else on the mound,” Mensch said later about Hall. “Matt has mastered his craft. His head belongs to the game.”
“It was kind of tough, being off for three weeks, we weren’t really in the swing of things,” Hall said afterward. “I was just trying to mix up speed and throw strikes. This might be the best game we played all year.”
If that’s the case, then the Whalers might be peaking at just the right time. With only one other Class C school on Long Island in Southold, which did not make the playoffs, Pierson had just one chance to advance to next weekend’s Final Four. With the long layoff, and then prom on Friday, it was anyone’s guess what would happen at Pace on Saturday.
“It’s unbelievable, really,” said Mensch, who is one of just four seniors on the Pierson roster. “Especially this weekend with prom and states, it’s a dream come true.”
Gavin Menu is the co-publisher and sports editor of the Sag Harbor Express. This article is being published with permission from the Express.