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Jul 31, 2018 11:02 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Joe Suozzi's Three-Run Blast Caps Eight-Run Seventh, Leads Sag Harbor Whalers To Wild Card Game Victory

Nick Thornquist (Texas-San Antonio) with the opening salvo of last week's wild card game: a solo homer to center field that gave the Whalers a quick 1-0 lead. DREW BUDD
Jul 31, 2018 11:24 AM

The Sag Harbor Whalers and Shelter Island Bucks did their best to make sure that the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League’s inaugural wild card game lived up to its name on July 25 at Fiske Field on Shelter Island.

After three hours and 13 minutes of baseball, the Whalers somehow pulled out a 12-10 victory, despite making seven errors in the field and facing, at one point, a six-run deficit after four innings.

Down 9-4 going into the top of the seventh inning, Sag Harbor exploded for eight runs, capped by a three-run blast by Joe Suozzi (Boston College), who jumped on a hanging curveball on the first pitch he saw, to give his team a 12-9 lead. It was the first time the Whalers had led since the very first inning, when Nick Thornquist (Texas-San Antonio) hit a solo homer to center field for an early 1-0 edge.

Sag Harbor, which finished in fifth place, behind the Bucks, during the regular season, advanced to the HCBL semifinals against the top-seeded Riverhead Tomcats.

Following the game, pumped-up Whalers players said that even when they fell behind early they didn’t count themselves out. Sam Lara (St. John’s), who pitched the final four innings for Sag Harbor in relief and only allowed one run to earn the win, striking out the final batter of the game looking, said he and his teammates didn’t hang their heads.

“We knew we’d get our chance—we got that in the seventh inning,” he said. “Earlier in the season, we’ve come back a bunch, so we have that confidence going late into games that we can still come back. It’s never over.”

Things were chippy between both teams from the start of the game, forcing home plate umpire Tom Magier to ask both teams to calm down a bit—he eventually tossed one of the Bucks players for taunting, which seemed to force both teams to halt the back-and-forth between them.

But things started to pick back up in the fifth inning, when, down by six runs at the time, one of the Bucks’ best players, and the new HBCL single-season home run king, Alex Volpi (Holy Cross), was hit by a pitch. Whether or not it was done intentionally, Magier warned both clubs that with the next hit batter, the opposing pitcher and manager would be tossed from the game.

On the very first pitch in the top of the sixth inning, Shelter Island starting pitcher Parker Thode (Grand View), who had only allowed two earned runs at the time, threw behind Sag Harbor’s Kros Bay (Cowley County C.C.). Bay took exception to it and took a few steps out of the batter’s box toward the pitcher’s mound, but he didn’t charge Thode, who stood at the front of the mound. Some players came out onto the field, but the umpires and coaches put out the flames rather quickly.

As a result of the pitch, Thode and his manager, Darryn Smith, were tossed from the game, due to the warning from the previous inning—and now the Bucks were forced to go to their bullpen.

With one out, Connor Anderson (Texas State) got things started in the top of the seventh for the Whalers with a bases-loaded double down the left field line that cleared the bases and made it a two-run game, 9-7. Bay followed with another double to left to score Anderson.

Then, after a wild pitch allowed Bay to advance to third base, Daniel Alvarez (Pittsburgh) hit a sharp single through a drawn-in infield that scored Bay easily to tie the game at 9-9. Alvarez stole second base, then Sam Cachola (California-Berkeley) walked, setting up Suozzi for his heroics. The Boston College product didn’t waste any time, sending the first pitch he saw well out to left center field, completing the Whalers’ comeback, giving them a 12-9 lead.

Suozzi said that the incident in the sixth, when Thode threw behind Bay, fired the team up.

“We got into their bullpen after their guy got thrown out of the game, and I think that pumped us up a little bit,” he said. “[We] got to their bullpen—we’ve seen their bullpen before and just took advantage of it.

“I wasn’t really looking curveball [on the first pitch],” Suozzi added, referring to his homer. “Just reacted and got a good swing on it. Definitely felt good off the bat. I knew it had a good shot.”

Sag Harbor manager Nate Lawrence said a lot of people don’t know that Suozzi is battling multiple injuries at the moment, making his moment even bigger.

“The heart on this kid is unbelievable, man. He’s playing through a knee injury, he’s got a finger injury, and so to watch him come up in that situation right there is big time for him and fun for people to watch,” he said. “I’ve watched these guys all year long battle adversity, keep coming back. When we’re down, we’re not out.”

The local Shelter Island/Sag Harbor rivalry goes way back within varsity athletics between the two school districts, and that seemed to finally carry over this year, Nick Kruel (Tampa), a Pierson grad and longtime Whaler, said after the game.

“It’s definitely always been a thing. In high school, we’d play them and there’d always be a little chirping back and forth. But this season, this has been the one team we’d always go back and forth with,” he explained. “A few really big meaningful games, some stuff happened, some words were said. So I think everyone knew going into this game this was going to be a rivalry battle, and it’s kind of a Cinderella story for it all to come down to the both of us like this.”

Since last week’s game was the first playoff game the Whalers have played in about five years or so, it was Kruel’s first taste of HCBL postseason action. “I’ve got to be honest, man—it feels amazing,” he said. “... To make it all the way here, it’s the most fantastic feeling on earth.”

All in all, there were 22 runs scored on 28 hits, to go along with 12 errors combined, and seven different pitchers were used by the two teams. The Bucks and Whalers certainly put on a show in the league’s first-ever wild card game.

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