Iona Prep is regarded as one of the best teams in CHSAA, and for good reason. The Gaels are coming off a Class AA championship and consistently produce quality college players (I’d suggest keeping an eye on Colin Moran at the University of North Carolina, who looks like he should be a top 10 pick in this year’s MLB draft), so they’ve earned that reputation.
But after Saturday’s 9-6 loss to rival Stepinac, Iona has been knocked off by the Crusaders at home for the second time in two years.
“It’s always tough coming here to play them,” Stepinac senior Sky Mercado said. “They’re always a really, really well-coached and good team. We always get up for this game. It’s probably our biggest of the year – this and Fordham, but this mostly because they’re not too far and it’s always a good game.”
The Crusaders got off to a bit of a slow start with a couple of tough losses early in the season, but they showed that they are capable of making some serious noise when they’re on top of their game. The bats helped them jump out to an early lead, and they did enough to hold off a late rally from the Gaels and come away with their biggest win of season thus far.
“It’s a rivalry game and they’re always going to be up,” Iona Prep coach Ryan Mahoney said. “Coach (Pat) Duffy works his butt off, and you can tell that those kids are well-coached. If they’re 0-10 and we’re 10-0, it doesn’t matter… No matter what, it’s going to be a good game. They got up early, and it’s tough to play catch up with wood bats in this league.”
• The key to the win for Stepinac was jumping on Iona Prep starter Matt Brembs early. Joe Signore and EJ King each had RBI singles in the first, forcing Brembs to throw 22 pitches in one inning and setting the tone for the game. “He was pretty accurate – he was pounding the zone – so we decided to be aggressive and swing,” King said. “We got the job done and got him out of there.”
• The Gaels tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the second on RBI singles from Daniel Oromond and Christian Pimentel, but the Crusaders turned it up in the fourth. After Brandon Soto was walked with the bases loaded to bring in the go-ahead run, Mercado stayed back on an outside fastball and shot it down the right field line to bring home two more and extend the lead to 5-2. “I saw in the first at-bat that he tried to throw me in and I hit a line drive up the middle that got caught by the center fielder,” he said. “I had a feeling he was going to go away, so I went with the pitch.”
• I have to say, I thought that Brembs had pretty good stuff and he threw a ton of strikes. He looked like he has the potential to be a major asset, but the Crusaders recognized that he was giving them hittable fastballs early in the count and did exactly what they should have done — take their hacks. Mahoney felt that his lefty’s biggest issue was rhythm. Brembs’ final line was: 4 IP, 5 R, 4 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 5 K, 75 pitches (51 strikes, 24 balls). “The tempo was slow,” he said. “We kind of preach that the pitcher has to work faster to keep the defense involved and keep the hitters on their toes. It wasn’t our normal game out there the first couple of innings.”
• With LHP Joseph Nastasi into pitch the fifth for Iona Prep, Stepinac continued to attack. Danny Hoffer and Signore led off with back-to-back singles, with Hoffer coming home on King’s RBI. King started the at-bat showing bunt, but faked it on the ball that he laced for the double. “I was trying to move him over with a bunt, but he threw me a ball the first time, and I pulled back,” King said. “Coach gave me a sign, slashed it, I pulled back, he put it right down the middle and I just let it go.”
• King’s double made it 6-2, and was followed by what was probably the most impressive play of the game for Stepinac. With runners on second and third, Joe Menna laid down a beautifully placed bunt up the first base line for the suicide squeeze. Right off the bat, I knew a run would score, but King was off and running at second and came motoring around to plate two runs on one bunt. That made it 8-2 Crusaders. “Double squeeze is what we’re working on,” Duffy said. “The kid at second takes a huge lead, kid at third with a regular squeeze, and the bunter puts it where it’s supposed to be. The kid at second is already around third when the bunt goes down and never hesitates. He just keeps coming, and it worked.”
• Although Stepinac pounded out 11 hits, it’s clear that Duffy is big on manufacturing runs. The Crusaders stole four bases and used the bunt effectively a few times. “When we got on, we had a game plan to leave on first move,” he said. “We worked on it in practice, and we did it today. We stole a bunch of bases. We’re very aggressive as it is. We’re not going to outhit many teams, but today we swung the bats.”
• While Brembs was throwing a ton of strikes for the Gaels, Stepinac starter Aidan Guinan struggled with his command. He managed to hold Iona to just two runs through four innings, but the Gaels started getting to him in the fifth. A single from Pimentel, a walk to Matt Henry and an RBI single from Ryan Crowley to start the inning chased Guinan from the game with the score at 8-3. Duffy said he thought he looked “tired,” which prompted him to make the change. Guinan’s final line was: 4 IP, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 H, 5 BB, 0 K, 64 pitches (30 strikes, 34 balls). “Their kid kept us off balance with his breaking ball,” Mahoney said. “When he threw it for a strike, he was pretty good. He kind of lulled them to sleep a little bit.”
• Matt Schumacher came on in relief and quickly gave up a hard hit ball that looked like it could have pulled Iona Prep to within one run. Pat Decea — who certainly has some big boy power — hit a long fly ball to left-center that landed just a few feet in front of the “368” sign. It looked like it had a shot to go out, but turned into a very long single. Because the runners had to hold up to see if it got caught, only one run was able to score, leaving the score at 8-4. “I thought it was a pop up,” Mahoney said. “He’s got big-time power and his ball takes off – in batting practice if you watch him, he hits balls out that you don’t even think are going to go anywhere. It was a difficult play because the kids can’t really advance because they’re waiting for him to catch it. Some guys are tagging, some guys can only go halfway. It would have been nice if it went out, but it was the longest single, maybe ever, here.”
• The bases remained loaded with no outs, but Schmacher couldn’t have drawn up a better plan to get out of the inning without further damage. He induced back-to-back grounders to the mound and got two force outs at home before a strikeout ended the fifth with the lead still at 8-4. “The two comebackers to the mound out of our five and six hitters hurt, but that’s baseball,” Mahoney said. “Those kids have been hitting all year and it’s one at-bat, but the kid did his job. He got the outs at home plate, and that’s the name of the game.”
• Stepinac added an insurance run on a wild pitch in the top of the sixth to make it 9-4, but the Gaels made another change in the bottom half of the inning. Schmacher loaded the bases with one out, prompting Duffy to bring in his closer, Mercado. Nate Estes hit an RBI single and Decea walked in another run to cut it to 9-6, but Mercado shut it down from there with back-to-back strikeouts to eliminate the threat. “Get an out,” Mercado said when I asked him what he was thinking in that situation. “Get two outs, and get back in on the sticks so we could score a couple more runs.”
• With a clean slate in the seventh, Mercado was lights out. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning with two more strikeouts. “I felt really good in that last inning,” he said.
• Stepinac’s 1-5 hitters — Mercado, Brandon Campos, Hoffer, Signore and King — combined to go 9 for 18 with five RBI and six runs scored, and they looked very good. I mentioned this to Duffy, but he seemed to be concerned with the bottom portion of the lineup. “I like that, but 6-7-8-9 are not doing it, so I have to start flipping those rookies in there,” he said. “I’ve got to see what they can do. Our JV is undefeated, but (1 through 5) I want to leave alone. I’ve got to leave them alone, cause they’re a really talented group.”
• Stepinac improved to 3-3 after a 1-3 start, while Iona Prep dropped to 7-5. The Gaels showed some fight at the end, but Mahoney said he wants to see more consistency. “We had some better at-bats and a better approach, but a little too late,” he said. “Some of our kids don’t understand that every at-bat counts – every pitch counts. When they’re 0-2 all of the time and their kid is getting to throw that breaking ball in plus counts, it’s difficult to hit like that.”
• 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 from Saturday:
Pearl River 6, Suffern 1: At Provident Bank Park Friday, John Doherty hurled six-and-one-third innings of one-run ball and Dan Campbell and Kevin Considine each drove in two runs for the Pirates. Jared DaCosta had two hits for the Mounties.
Irvington 9, Bronxville 6: At Irvington, Rafelin Brito and David Erosa each had two RBI. Gus Passov went 2 for 3 and pitched 2 1/3 innings in relief for the win. Shoran Tamura went 2 for 3 with three runs and an RBI.
Putnam Valley 8, Lakeland 6: In the first round of the Dan Vize tournament at Lakeland, Nick Marro, Devin Rose, and Kyle Kuttruf each had two RBI for the Tigers. Ryan Arena had two hits and two RBI for the Hornets.
North Salem 1, Somers 0: At North Salem, freshman Dan Capra struck out eight and allowed one hit in five innings in his pitching debut. Capra allowed the hit with one out in the top of the first. Capra also scored the only run of the game in the third inning. Older brother Phil Capra, a sophomore for the Tigers, was behind the plate the entire game. Spencer Ballot struck out nine and allowed three hits in six innings for the Tuskers.
Westlake 3, Horace Greeley 1: In the consolation final of the Dave Basso tournament at Harrison, Michael Cerrato threw a complete game, striking out eight and allowing one earned run. Anthony Rotunno had a run scored, two doubles and two RBI. Andrew Myers got through six innings on 78 pitches with five hits and five strikeouts for the Quakers.
Arlington 5, Brewster 2: At Arlington, Matt Ghelarducci went 2 for 3 with a run scored, a double, a home run and two RBI for the Bears. Matt McClean pitched five innings and allowed four earned runs.
Pleasantville 12, Hastings 4: At Pace University, Nick Greto had three RBI. John Tucci went 3 for 3 with three runs scored. Chris Leonard allowed one earned run and four hits in five innings while striking out five. John Wilt went 2 for 3 with an RBI for the Yellow Jackets.
Hackley 3, Horace Mann 0: At Hackley, Austin Disher pitched a complete game and struck out eight Joey McDermott had two hits and Adin Rinzler had two RBI. George Santangelo drove home the winning run with a single in the sixth.
Rye Neck 15, Port Chester 2: In the opening round of the Anthony Foust Tournament at Port Chester, Thomas Pipolo drove in four runs and Chris Cascione and Tyler Spinelli each drove in two runs and scored three for the Panthers. Brian Rodriguez went 2 for 2 for the Rams.
Rye 13, Port Chester 4: In the consolation game of the Anthony Foust Tournament at Port Chester, Grif Tutun went 5 for 5, drove in two runs and scored two runs and Connor Mruphy had three hits and drove in two runs for the Garnets. Mike Iantorno had two hits and scored a run for the Rams.
Rye Neck 10, Blind Brook 3: In the championship game of the Anthony Foust Tournament at Port Chester, tournament MVP Angelo Spedafino had three RBI, a run, a double and a triple. Jakob Caldini had two RBI. Winning pitcher Ryan Aquino struck out nine in seven innings and also scored two runs. Thomas Pipolo had a double and two runs. Teddy Serbato had an RBI, a run and a double for Blind Brook.
Greens Farms 5, Harvey 4: At Greens Farms, Mike Chavkin had three RBI. Corey Eisenband went 4 for 4.
Harrison 4, Valhalla 2: In the championship game of the Dave Basso tournament at Harrison, Jake Zuckman allowed one earned run with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings to earn tournament MVP honors. Austin Pollack was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the sixth to bring in Tyler Hart for the go-ahead run.
Byram Hills 6, Ossining 5, 9: In the first round of the Christian Federico tournament at Ossining, Armend Pushka went 3 for 3 with two walks and two RBI, including a single to drive in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Jared Feldman went 2 for 3 with a double, an RBI, two walks and three runs scored. Austin Bates went 2 for 3 with a walk, a double and three RBI for the Pride. The Bobcats will play the Scarsdale-Saunders winner in the championship game at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Ossining will play the loser in the consolation final at 11 a.m.
Clarkstown North 12, Nyack 4: At Provident Bank Park, Josh Forman drove in three runs and Kyle O’Grady and Kyle Unger each drove in a pair for the Rams. Jordan Mews went 3 for 3 and drove in two runs for the Indians.