BINGHAMTON— Arguably the most talented senior class in Rye Neck’s history came up one win short of its first ever Class B state title in baseball on Saturday at Binghamton University, but that doesn’t diminish what this group accomplished in the eyes of the outgoing seniors.
“I think it’s one of those groups that you don’t see very often anywhere – not just at Rye Neck,” senior Matt Franks said. “I think in any class we could have competed with any team in any sport. It’s something to be proud of, making it so far in every sport. I think that the Rye Neck community, and even Section 1, will look back at this group of kids and say it was a really special class.”
Everything had gone according to plan for the Panthers leading up to the Class B state championship game, including a convincing 8-0 win over Section 5 champ Livonia in the semifinals earlier in the day.
With nine seniors in the starting lineup and a bevy of quality arms, Rye Neck seemed to be in perfect position to capture an elusive state title, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Panthers ran out of gas in a 3-1 loss to Section 2’s Schalmont.
“We played an amazing game in the first one,” Franks said. “Everything was solid – our hitting, pitching and fielding. We thought we could carry that into (the final), and for the most part, we did. It’s just their pitcher had a great game and shut us down for the most part. He kept us from stringing along hits.”
Schalmont (26-1) ace Greg Musk picked up two wins in one day, coming on in relief to pitch three innings in the semis before tossing a complete game on 106 pitches in the final.
“Coach (Bob Anderson) told me that I would be in relief if things got a little too sticky in the first game, and then he said I’d start the second game if I was up to it,” Musk said. “I told him I wanted the second game.”
Rye Neck (25-2-1) had allowed just two runs in seven playoff games entering the final, where Angelo Spedafino would take the ball. He allowed two runs before a quick hook in the second, giving way to Franks with one out and the bases loaded.
Franks would escape the jam without allowing any more runs, pitching 4 2/3 innings while allowing one run and striking out seven to keep the Panthers in the game.
“There was probably nobody who I would trust more in that situation,” Rye Neck coach Tyler Slater said. “It wasn’t even discussed because we expected Angelo to get deeper, but Matt got the ball and did a great job.”
Ace Ryan Aquino was outstanding for Rye Neck in the semis, tossing a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts.
“He did a fantastic job pitching on one foot, basically,” said Franks, referring to strained tendons in Aquino’s left foot. “He’s been great all season. He’s a great pitcher who’s going to go onto pitch next year at Pace, and he pitched a great game. (Livonia) was a tough team that we played. They averaged like 11 runs per game all season, but he got ahead in the count and was able to put them away.”
The Panthers’ bats seemed to breakout in the semifinal win. Franks had two RBI in that game, while Spedafino, Aquino, Chris Pennell, Thomas Pipolo and Tyler Spinelli had one apiece, but they were quieted by Musk in the final.
Rye Neck left nine men on base against Schalmont, with Spedafino driving in the lone run in the sixth.
“Their pitcher was tough,” Slater said. “He was pounding the outside corner and we just weren’t able to string a few together. We mixed in a walk here and there, but we weren’t able to capitalize on it. We just didn’t do enough today offensively.”
The loss ended the careers of a senior class that also went to the Class B title game in football, while reaching the sectional semifinals in basketball.
“It’s as rare as it gets,” Slater said of his senior-laden group. “It’s a once in a career opportunity. We joke about having the most perfectly balanced team from speed to defense to pitching, and it made my job very easy. Coming in as seniors this year, it was their team. I was kind of just there not to mess it up.”
Photos by Jeff Miller/For The Journal News