While the game was virtually meaningless in terms of playoff positioning and league standings, the battle between Stepinac and White Plains in the 10th annual Joe McAvoy City Challenge was filled with intensity and late drama. Perhaps no player felt the pressure as much as Stepinac starting pitcher James Decker (pictured above), who is a White Plains resident that grew up playing with many of the players on the current Tigers’ roster.
“I actually had to calm myself down because a lot of these guys are my friends,” the right-hander said. “I wish them luck the rest of the way, but it was just a lot of emotions out there.”
Crusaders coach Pat Duffy said he went with Decker for two reasons. The first being that he wasn’t going to go with one of his top starters in a non-league game, and the other being that he knew Decker would be excited about the opportunity to pitch against his hometown team.
Decker isn’t the kind of pitcher who will blow it by you — he didn’t have a single strikeout in five innings of work — but he kept White Plains off balance by throwing his offspeed pitches for strikes early in the count. His performance in Saturday’s 5-4 win earned him game MVP honors.
“I’m not going to get that many strikeouts, so it’s all about location and making them put the ball in play,” Decker said. “We have a good defense, so it’s all about throwing strikes.”
• Decker kept his pitch count low by getting a lot of quick outs. He wasn’t afraid to pitch to contact, and as White Plains coach Marcel Galligani said, “he pitched backwards.” Rather than allowing the Tigers to sit on his fastball early in the count, Decker often started guys off with his changeup or curveball. He didn’t strike anybody out, but he also didn’t walk anyone. His final line was: 5 IP, 4 ER, 8 H, 0 K, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 60 pitches (39 strikes, 21 balls). “I wasn’t overpowering anybody – they were getting some good swings on me,” he said. “Our defense did a good job because I don’t think I struck anybody out. I was just glad I was able to pitch well enough to win the game.”
• Both Decker and WP starter Kevin Nicholson cruised through their first couple of innings, but the Tigers struck first thanks to a little small ball in the bottom of the third. With it being a wood bat game, neither team was shy about bunting and trying to manufacture runs. A single, two bunts and a ground ball to the right side from Sean Nicholson gave White Plains a 1-0 lead.
• The Crusaders responded right away in the top of the fourth. Joe Signore drove in the tying run with an RBI single, but it seemed that the Tigers would get out of the inning without allowing any further damage when Brandon Soto chopped one to third base with two outs. The throw to second was short, which extended the inning and gave Stepinac new life. “When a team makes mistakes, you have to capitalize,” shortstop Sky Mercado said.
• The next batter was EJ King, and he hit a run-scoring single to put the Crusaders up 2-1. No. 9 hitter Sal Cappiello followed with a two-run double — Stepinac’s only extra base-hit of the afternoon — to put his team up 4-1. A second error allowed the Crusaders to take a 5-1 lead, digging the Tigers into a hole. “My coach said, ‘Go in there strong, thinking (positive),’ ” Cappiello said. “I wanted to contribute to the team. I saw the pitch that I liked and I just took a big hack at it.”
• I asked Cappiello if he felt like he got a good pitch to hit because White Plains might not have viewed him as a threat as the ninth hitter, but he said that he relishes the role. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I love that spot. I feel like I see great pitches and I feel comfortable there.”
• Prior to that inning, White Plains had made some sparkling plays in the field (SS Tommy Bertram looked very smooth). All it takes is one (or two) bad plays to change the complexion of a game, and both of the Tigers’ errors came at the most inopportune moments. “We should have been out of the inning with one run. It should have been a 1-1 baseball game, and then offensively we did what we had to do to score runs and get back in it,” Galligani said. “For the most part, since we’ve been back (from Florida), we’ve been playing really good defense. One half inning really cost us the game defensively.”
• The fourth inning overshadowed a great pitching performance from Nicholson. He showed some swing-and-miss stuff, and his command was sharp pretty much all afternoon. He went the distance, finishing with a final line of: 7 IP, 5 R, 1 ER, 7 K, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 HBP, 103 pitches (67 pitches, 36 balls). “He threw the ball great,” Galligani said. “He was throwing strikes, he had good velocity and he maintained his velocity throughout the game, which was encouraging to see. He’s going to be important for us… Unfortunately the kid is leaving with a loss, and he doesn’t deserve it.”
• Nicholson’s performance bodes well for the Tigers moving forward. He’s slotted in as their No. 3 starter, but he looked like a No. 1 or No. 2 today. “I’m extremely happy with the way that all three guys have thrown the baseball,” Galligani said. “Chris (Medeot) threw the ball great in his first outing – he just made two mistakes for four runs. Lukas (Repetti) came out and dealt the other day with 10 strikeouts, and Kevin was throwing the crap out of the baseball (today). He was throwing great. Like I told you in the beginning of the year, I was confident with our pitching coming in.”
• The Tigers responded right away in the bottom of the fourth, with a controversial call at home plate possibly costing them a run. Cameron Crabbe led off the inning with a single and stole second. Juan Payero then singled to center, but Crabbe was called out on the tag at home. I was right there, and the play was bang-bang. The throw looked like it might have Crabbe beat at first, but he found another gear and got there almost simultaneously. I couldn’t tell for sure if the tag was made, but I wouldn’t have been surprised either way. Galligani and the rest of the White Plains dugout obviously disagreed with the call. “I think I argued it more than anything because I was a little bit disappointed in myself that I ended up sending him,” Galligani said. “I saw the outfielder kind of kick the ball a little bit, and the moment I saw the kick, I brought him around. At that point I realized that the ball never really got that far away from the guy. He was fortunate that it stayed about a foot away, but I still think Cam was safe. He got around the tag, and Cam told me he never tagged him.”
• White Plains still ended up scoring a couple of runs in the inning, with Medeot driving one in with a double and Kevin Nicholson plating another by beating out an infield single to cut the deficit to 5-3. Payero added another RBI single in the fifth, setting up a dramatic seventh inning.
• I was a bit surprised to see Decker taken out to begin the sixth with such a low pitch count (he had only thrown 60 pitches), but I think that showed how badly Duffy wanted to win the game (After all, Stepinac was 0-3 coming into the day.). He went to his closer in Mercado, who throws much harder than Decker and provided a different look for White Plains. Mercado got through the sixth, but started the seventh inning shaky. He walked the first two batters, then retired two in a row, and then walked another to load the bases. He finally induced a grounder to end the game, but even that was a very close call at second base. “The fastball was getting away from me – just trying to overthrow a little bit,” Mercado said. “I got too caught up in the moment, but White Plains is a big rivalry.”
• This was the third one-run game that I’ve seen this week, and it was intense. Each team may have downplayed it a bit coming in because White Plains is a Section 1 team and Stepinac is in the CHSAA, but as the game went on, it became clear that both teams wanted this one badly. Mercado made an interesting point to me about kids growing up in White Plains who might be debating which of the two schools to attend. “We put a lot into it, because you see kids in the stands who might want to choose a school,” he said. “If we get a win, it could bring some talent to our school and help us out in the future.”
• To see the play-by-play action and full box score, click here to see how I scored the game on iScore.
Here are the rest of the results that we received that we’ve received so far today:
John Jay 6, Yorktown 5, 9: At John Jay Friday, Anthony Patti and Jack Weiller had two RBI apiece. Tyler Keech had two hits and scored one run. Jordan Bichler had two hits and scored three runs for Yorktown. Tim Keiling had three hits and scored one run.
Ardsley 5, Valhalla 2: At Valhalla Friday, Rich Elliot went 3 for 4 witha double and two RBI for the Panthers. Mike Yodice had a double and an RBI. James Gerster went 2 for 4 and drove in a run for the Vikings.
Putnam Valley 9, Pawling 4: At Pawling Friday, Ryan Yetter went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBI for the Tigers. Billy Kroboth went 2 for 3 with three runs scored, a double and an RBI.
Hen Hud 8, Croton-Harmon 2: At Croton-Harmon Friday, Kyle Monk pitched a five-hit complete game with 10 strikeouts. Carson Cole went 1 for 3 with two RBI and a walk. Mike Hrycko went 2 for 3.
Albertus Magnus 11, O’Neill 1: At Albertus Magnus Friday, Luke Kern had a double and four RBI for the Falcons. Austin Pinelli had two RBI.
Haldane 9, Tuxedo 0: At Haldane Friday, Stephen Zalys went 2 for 3 with a double and two RBI. John Rotando went 1 for 4 and drove in two runs.
Lakeland 7, Upper Room Christian 3: At Lakeland Friday, Kevin Lynch recorded his first varsity win and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Ray Bozek had three hits and Ryan Arena had two RBI.
Ketcham 16, Brewster 6: At Ketcham Friday, Matt Ghelarducci went 2 for 3 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBI for the Bears. Teammate Garrett Longhurst went 2 for 3 with a run scored, a double and an RBI.
Rye 6, Port Chester 3: At Rye, Griffin Tutun had two triples and two RBI. Luke Meyerson pitched two innings had two strikeouts and allowed two hits in his first varsity win. Mike Sciavillo, Mike Thogerson and Kyle Drummond each had an RBI for the Rams.
Westlake 4, Byram Hills 3: At Byram Hills, Michael Cerrato allowed two earned runs in six innings while striking out four for the win. Christoper Gorman went 2 for 3 with two RBI. Jack Hatheway went 2 for 3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI for the Bobcats.
Mount Vernon 9, Hastings 4: At Mount Vernon, Christian Urena got the win. Jai Swittenberg had a three-run triple, while Juan Valdez and Larry Johnson each had two hits apiece.
Pleasantville 10, Pearl River 3: At Pleasantville, Anthony Godino had four RBI. Chris Leonard struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings to earn the win. Pat Gannon had two RBI for the Pirates.
North Salem 5, Arlington B 4: At North Salem, James Wynne had a walk off single in the bottom of the seventh to drive in Jack Walter. Wynne had three hits and two RBI. Ryan Ledwith had a home run and an RBI.
Briarcliff 4, Ossining 0: In the second game of the Briarcliff Booster Club Diamond Classic, Spencer Kulman pitched six innings giving up three hits with eight strikeouts. Rob Contento went 1 for 2 with two RBIs. Austin Bates, Kevin Haag and Sean Trenholn each had a hit for the Pride. Briarcliff will host Fieldson in the finals Sunday at 3 p.m. Ossining will face O’Neil in the consolation at noon.
Riverside 19, Palisade Prep 1, 5: At Riverside, Cheyanne Bray had five RBI and three hits. Lizbeth Marmolejos had three hits and four RBI. Amy Bezada had 11 strirkeouts and allowed one hit.
Arlington 4, Mahopac 1: At Mahopac, Dan Tully had two hits and an RBI. Kevin Kernan six strikeouts with five hits and four runs allowed in the loss.
Goshen 14, Nanuet 7: At Nanuet, Brandon Strathy hit a three-run homer and had a sacrifice fly for Nanuet. Cody Fitzgerald added a home run and Nick O’Connor had two doubles.
Tuckahoe 12, Roosevelt 7: At Roosevelt, Nick Reisman had a bases-loaded triple for Tuckahoe. DJ Smith and Jean Carlos Minier had two hits and two RBI apiece for Roosevelt.
Tappan Zee 8, Clarkstown South 1: At Clarkstown South, Matt Scherf had two RBI. John Kukura drove in the only run for the Vikings. Mike Woulfe allowed one earned run in six innings of work for the win.
Iona Prep 7, Salesianum (Del.) 6, 12: At Iona, Ryan Crowley and Matt Henry each had two hits. Joe Casarella got the win in relief, combining with Christian Pimentel to surrender only two runs over the final six innings.
Hackley 2, Packer Collegiate 1: At Hackley, Kevin Dronzik hit a walkoff single to give the Hornets the win. Austen Disher allowed one hit in four innings and Spencer Sohmer pitched the seventh for the win.
Gorton 19, Yonkers Montessori 5
Lincoln 11, Palisade Prep 4
Photo by Jim Sannerud