Coming into the first meeting of the season between CHSAA league rivals Iona Prep and Stepinac on Tuesday, I had every reason to believe that the Gaels were a heavy favorite. Iona had won a league championship last season and has a deep pitching staff, while the Crusaders seemed to be in rebuilding-mode with a very young roster. But Stepinac hung tough behind a gutsy performance from senior RHP Christian Huertas, overcoming a three-run deficit to win it 4-3 in eight innings.
“This is huge for us,” Huertas said. “We’re a young team right now, but our bats came through.”
Both starting pitchers — Huertas and Tim McCarthy — looked very good to start the game. McCarthy got into some trouble in the top of the second, but it was through little fault of his own. The Gaels committed three straight errors to leave the bases loaded with one out, but the lanky right-hander got a strikeout and a ground out to escape the jam without allowing a run.
“I’m not surprised we left the bases loaded with this young squad,” said Stepinac coach Pat Duffy, who noted that the Crusaders are carrying 16 underclassmen. “That’s going to happen. We missed a few signs early on… I need patience, that’s what I need. And Advil.”
While Stepinac failed to capitalize on its opportunities, Iona did not. Despite managing just one extra base-hit off of Huertas, the Gaels scored one run apiece in three separate innings.
Iona was able to scratch its first run across in the bottom of the second thanks to Jack McDermott. The right fielder singled, advanced to second on an error and stole third, eventually scoring on a passed ball.
The Gaels added another run in the fourth when Christian Berg grounded into a fielder’s choice, and then Sam Garito extended the lead to 3-0 with an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. Cody Polchinski got the fifth started with a double to RCF. Polchinski, Garito and McDermott combined for six of Iona’s seven hits off of Huertas.
But Huertas was able to keep the Gaels’ scoring chances to minimum, as only one of their three runs was driven in by a hit.
“He didn’t walk anybody,” Duffy said. “He threw strikes, and that’s the key to high school baseball – get ahead and throw strikes.”
Huertas threw a variety of pitches for strikes, using his fastball, cutter, changeup and curve effectively. McCarthy relied move heavily on his fastball, mixing in the occasional curve. But both were efficient. Huertas got through eight innings on 99 pitches (66 strikes), while McCarthy threw just 47 pitches through his first four innings.
“He pitched great,” Iona Prep coach Fred Gallo said of McCarthy. “He survived the three errors in (the second) inning and nothing happened.”
But things began to unravel a bit for McCarthy in the top of the sixth. Julian Ponce was hit by a pitch, Frankie Giuliano was walked and James Decker singled to load the bases for sophomore Joe Signore with two outs.
Signore jumped on the first pitch and hit a two-run single to right field to give the Crusaders something to be excited about for the first time in the game. Reno Scotto was up next, and he beat out an infield single to tie the game at 3-3.
After Stepinac tied the game in the sixth inning, Gallo went to UConn-bound pitcher Matt D’Ariano — who was scheduled to pitch this Friday — to pitch the seventh.
“I put him in to try and win the game,” Gallo said. “He’s my second-best pitcher. I’m not worried about him starting on Friday against Hayes, we’ll worry about Friday when it comes.”
D’Ariano got through the seventh, but control issues got the better of him in the eighth. He walked three batters to load the bases before being relieved by Steve Rizzaro. Rizzaro hit Brandon Soto with a pitch to bring home the winning run.
Huertas came out to pitch a 1-2-3 eighth, finishing with five strikeouts and only one walk while allowing two earned runs on seven hits.
“I’ll keep sending him out there as long as the pitch count is reasonable and he’s not walking anybody,” Duffy said. “He didn’t want to come out. He would have punched me if I would have taken him out of there against Iona as a senior.”
Here are the rest of the results from Tuesday:
Ardsley 3, Roosevelt 1: At Ardsley, Matt Shear pitched a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and just one walk. Rich McElligott had a double and three RBI.
Pelham 4, Saunders 0: At Pelham, Gjon Ljucovic pitched his first complete game no-hitter of the season allowing three walks and struck out 13. It was his second complete game pitched of the year. Anthony Senerchia had a double and two RBI.
Irvington 8, Dobbs Ferry 3: At Irvington, Konald Cupp went 3 for 3 with two doubles, a triple and four RBI. Miles Semetis pitched a complete game, allowing two earned runs and striking out eight. Rocco Cipriano went 2 for 4 with an RBI for the Eagles.
Nanuet 6, Eastchester 2: At Eastchester, Luke Panaro had a hit and two RBI and Brandon Strathy had two RBI. Marc Medico went 2 for 3 with an RBI for the Eagles.
Croton-Harmon 4, Blind Brook 2: At Croton-Harmon, Adam Shaukat scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning on a hit by Brian Oliver. Mike Hyrcko had a hit and an RBI and winning pitcher Brandon Glover struck out five in five innings. Christian Doughty was perfect in his two innings of relief with three strikeouts.
John Jay 6, North Salem 1: At North Salem, Brian Gleason and Evan O’Connor each had a run and two RBI. O’Connor allowed only four hits and struck out nine. North Salem’s Nick Dolce had a run and a double.
Rye Country Day 2, Brunswick 0: At Brunswick, winning pitcher Andrew Waite allowed only three hits, two walks, and struck out eight.
Lakeland 6, Hen Hud 5: At Hen Hud, Anthony Fava went 1 for 2 with two RBI and two runs scored and Chris Conklin went 3 for 4 with an RBI. Matt Solnik went 3 for 4 with a double for the Sailors.
Tuckahoe 8, Dover 4, 6: In the opening round of the Bronxville tournament at Bronxville, Nick Reisman and Mike Arbone each drove in two runs. LJ Gallo pitched five innings, striking out eight to get the win in the game that was called due to darkness. The Tigers will face Bronxville in the championship on Thursday afternoon.
Masters 9, Greens Farms Academy 2: At Greens Farms Academy, Nicky Langer pitched a complete game and struck out 11. Brandon Lamberty had three hits and Cormack Walsh had two hits including a triple.
Kennedy 5, Panas 4: At Kennedy, Mike Ennis drove in two runs for the Gaels. Oscar Giret pitched six scoreless innings for the win. Panas scored all four runs in the top of the seventh.
Rye 8, Valhalla 4: At Valhalla, Tim DeGraw went 4 for 4 with four runs scored for the Garnets. Ryan Popp went 3 for 4 with a home run. Matt Cassinelli went 3 for 4 with three RBI for the Vikings.
Albertus Magnus 8, Westlake 4: At Albertus Magnus, James Gizzi had a hit and two RBI and Casey Kern had two hits and an RBI. Matt Dale pitched a complete game and allowed three earned runs. Christopher Gorman and James Grieco each had two hits and an RBI for the Wildcats.
Carmel 7, Yorktown 3: At Yorktown, Sal Gadero went 2 for 2 with a three-run home run and Easton Obojokovits struck out seven in six innings for the win. Brian Redahan went 1 for 2 with a double and two RBI for the ‘Huskers.
Clarkstown North 6, East Ramapo 2: At Clarkstown North, TJ Margiotta had a triple and two RBI for the Rams. Greg Morano allowed two earned runs on seven hits in six and a third of an inning pitched, walked two and struck out five. Matt Phaler went 2 for 2 and had an RBI for the Titans.
Pearl River 8, Tappan Zee 3: At Tappan Zee, Kevin Considine went 3 for 3 with a double and an RBI. Brendan Ryan had a hit and two RBI and John Brebbia added two RBI. Mike McGivney had a hit and two RBI for the Dutchmen.
Ossining 3, Harrison 2, 9: At Ossining, Jason Tierney scored the winning run on a play at the plate off a Matt Belitz grounder. The Pride scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth, breaking up Mike Forgione’s no-hitter and shutout. Forgione finished with eight strikeouts in the no decision. Mike Haag struck out nine in seven innings of work for the Pride. Zach Giusti pitched two perfect innings for the win.
Sleepy Hollow 7, Hastings 2: At Sleepy Hollow, Dionel Infante, Jason Martinez, Ronniel Munoz, and Immer Rosado each had two hits and an RBI. Winning pitcher Alex Stoll went five innings and struck out eight. James Guiney drove in both runs with a single in the sixth inning for Hastings.
Byram Hills 2, Rye Neck 0: At Rye Neck, Joe Summa scored the go-ahead run off a passed ball in the fifth inning. Chris Pennell pitched a complete, three-hitter for the Panthers.
(REMINDER: This week’s Live LoHud Baseball Chat has been moved up from Thursday night to Wednesday. We’ll still be getting started at 8 p.m.)
Photos by Xavier Mascareñas / The Journal News