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Jun 1, 2018 9:30 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

East Rockaway Comes Back To Defeat Pierson/Bridgehampton Baseball In Long Island Class C Championship

Pierson senior Sam Warne gets a fist bump from first base coach James Sherry after beating out a throw for an infield single. DREW BUDD
Jun 4, 2018 4:34 PM

It’s hard to look back at a 21-win baseball season and think about what could have been. But that’s exactly what the Pierson baseball team was doing after a 5-4 loss to East Rockaway in the Long Island Class C Championship at St. Joseph’s College Athletic Complex in Patchogue on Thursday, May 31.

Nassau County Champion East Rockaway spoiled the Whalers’ hopes of advancing to states for the first time in three years by scoring three runs in the top of the seventh inning to come back and steal the win. The Rocks advanced to the Class C Regional Finals at Cantine Field in upstate Saugerties on Saturday where they defeated Pine Plains (Section IX-Orange, Sullivan, Ulster counties), 6-2, to advance to the state tournament, which is this weekend.

Pierson head coach Jonathan Schwartz said last week’s loss was tough but he told his players afterward to be proud of a successful season that included that program’s first county title since 2014 and a League IX title to go along with it.

“I couldn’t be more proud of their effort,” he said. “To be able to do what they did against a very tough pitcher, they should keep their heads up. They did everything they were supposed to in a game like this, it’s just how baseball goes sometimes. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”

Leading 4-2 heading into the top of the seventh inning, Cooper Schiavoni came in to close out the game in relief of starting pitcher Tyler LaBorne, who pitched well but had just pitched a long sixth inning where he needed to get out of a bases-loaded jam, which he did with a strikeout. Schiavoni got the first out without issue, then, after allowing a few base runners, he struck out Stefano Cilluffo looking for the second out. But Jon Starkman singled to center field driving in a run, then Matt Perri doubled to left center field driving in the tying and go-ahead runs to make it 5-4.

The Whalers still had their final at-bats, but Cilluffo appeared to get a bit of an adrenaline rush on the mound after his team got him the lead and was throwing much harder than he was earlier in the game. He struck out the side to end the game and finish with 11 strikeouts.

Schwartz said that putting Schiavoni in to close out the game was really his only plan. Sam Warne, one of the top arms on the team, was slated to start Saturday’s Regional Final had the Whalers won, but even if he wasn’t scheduled to pitch, Schwartz said, Schiavoni had three saves during the regular season and was the team’s closer.

“Sam was not in that spot all year. Cooper had three saves for us this year—in the few opportunities we had for saves—so he was tested in that spot and he’s the most relaxed kid you would want out there in that situation,” he explained. “So I had full confidence he would do the job. He lost one pitch [that] hit a batter, missed a couple of spots, and that’s all it takes sometimes. And they had a couple of clutch hits by their kids.”

After falling behind by a run in the third, Pierson produced a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning, aided by poor defense by East Rockaway to go along with some nifty baserunning by the Whalers. After Oliver Kirwin led off the inning with a base hit up the middle, E.J. Burke laid down a nice bunt that the Rocks’ third baseman fielded cleanly but threw over the first baseman and up the line into right field. Kirwin came all the way around from first to tie the game on the error and Burke reached third.

During the following at-bat, a pitch got away from the East Rockaway catcher and Burke, after a slight hesitation, decided to try and score. Cilluffo covered home plate and received the toss from his catcher and it seemed as if they had Burke out at the plate, but the senior maneuvered himself on his head-first slide where he was able to avoid the tag and swipe the plate with his right hand, giving the Whalers a 2-1 lead.

Later in the inning, after LaBorne drove in Warne on a sacrifice fly to center field, Nick Egbert sat on third base and Schiavoni was at first. Schiavoni executed a delayed steal, where he purposefully got caught in a run-down allowing Egbert to head to the plate. The Rocks threw home trying to get Egbert but the throw was well high allowing Pierson to score its fourth run of the inning. Schiavoni was safe at second on the play and eventually reached third on a passed ball. With a 1-2 count on Tom Brooks at the plate, Schwartz called for Schiavoni to steal home and he was tagged out to end the inning.

Schwartz knew coming into the game, he said, that his team was going to have to stay true to its philosophy of small ball, putting the ball in play and forcing the action on the base paths, due to Cilluffo’s ability on the mound.

“We knew that kid was going to be tough so we prepared for it,” he said. “We wanted to try and swing for contact, force the issue, put the ball on the ground, try not to put the ball in the air too much. With a wet turf, wet grass, we wanted to force them to make the plays and we thought the more we did that the more successful we would be, and that’s why we had that big inning. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get many base runners on throughout the game.”

A big core of players is now graduating this month and includes the heart of the team’s lineup and its two top pitchers in LaBorne, Warne, Brooks and Burke. Greg Byrne is also graduating.

Schwartz is confident with the players he has coming back that the team can continue to be successful, but he’ll certainly miss the group that is leaving the team.

“They provided a lot of experience and leadership. They were in the heart of our lineup. It’s definitely going to be a new team going forward, but hopefully the younger kids take what they learned from the older kids and put together their own legacy,” he said.

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