Here are some of my thoughts from the championship weekend on this rainy Monday…
• Big games don’t always live up to the hype, but in the case of Saturday’s championship finals, I think we got our money’s worth in each game. In fact, we got two games’ worth in the Class B final. It’s really quite staggering how good the pitching was in that one. Think about this: Albertus Magnus and Keio played more innings (14) than they combined for hits (9). And for a seven-inning stretch from the seventh until the 13th, they had just one hit apiece. The starters for each team pitched well — Owen Lorenz for the Falcons and Yuya Morita for the Unicorns — but the stars were the relievers. Kenta Nishiyama allowed just one hit and no walks over eight innings for Keio on two days’ rest, while MVP James Reilly tossed 6.1 scoreless innings in relief for Magnus, allowing two hits and two walks with five strikeouts. They showed why they are considered the two deepest pitching staffs in Class B. “I knew that coming in,” Keio coach Rocky Pasquale said. “I’ve heard enough about them around the county. I knew Lorenz was legit, and he’s big-time legit. But Reilly came on after throwing two (innings each) on Wednesday and Thursday, and then threw five or six today. They’ve got pitching. You can see why they’ve gone as far as they’ve gone.”
• Lorenz had started on Wednesday in the semis against Valhalla, so he had just two days’ rest going into the finals. I was a bit surprised to see him get the start, but he was obviously on a limited pitch count. Magnus coach Dan Freeman pulled him after three innings and 42 pitches, even though Lorenz had a no-hitter going. Reilly, Rob Ottaviano and Christian Conklin were each used, and each was effective. “(Freeman) told us after our win on Thursday, everyone be ready. We’re going to use all of you,’ ” Reilly said. “And we said, ‘Whatever you need us to do, we’re going to get it done.’ ”
• Everything really fell into place perfectly for Byram Hills in these Class A playoffs. You never want to look ahead, but deep down, coach Scott Saunders knew that ace Frankie Vesuvio had more success against Rye’s lineup than No. 2 Matt Gertz. And he knew if he wanted to win the whole thing, the Bobcats were probably going to have to get by the defending champs. We talk a lot about picking your spots with your ace in the playoffs, and in Byram’s case, wise decision-making led to the first championship in program history. (And, yes, it helped that they didn’t have to see Rye ace George Kirby.) “It was a gamble,” Saunders said. “The boys said when they talked about doing it that they had our back. That’s what they wanted.”
• Even with the pitching matchup working in Byram’s favor, it still turned out to be a really close game. Rye had its best inning in the first and took a 2-0 lead after two, but Vesuvio really found his groove after that. Improved command has been so crucial for him this year as he’s converted from closer to starter, and once again, he was pinpoint on Saturday. He only walked one and threw 64 of his 87 pitches for strikes. He also showed off his swing-and-miss stuff with eight strikeouts. His development has been impressive, and he was named the final #lohudbaseball Player of the Week for 2015 earlier today. “He hadn’t pitched in 10, 11 days,” Saunders said. “Once he settled down, he was masterful. It just took him a little while to get there.”
• Big thanks to Gene Knudsen Jr., son of former Byram coach Gene Knudsen, who confirmed that this was in fact the first section title in program history for Byram. The Bobcats have been building towards this since their appearance in the 2012 finals, and now they’re at the top of Class A. The program has really come a long, long way. “It’s most of the same guys from these last two, three years,” Vesuvio said. “We have good chemistry and we were just tried of losing in the semis.”
• It looked like the easiest win of the day would belong to Mamaroneck, but of course, defending champ Ketcham wasn’t going to go down without a fight. The Tigers had an 8-0 lead after five innings with everything going as smooth as coach Mike Chiapparelli could have hoped for — in fact, it almost felt too smooth. No. 3 starter Jason Kreinces was thrust into a huge spot after Wednesday’s 13-inning win over Arlington burned out the pitching staff, and he was outstanding through five scoreless innings. But a couple of walks and a couple of singles opened the door for the Indians, as many Section 1 fans started having flashbacks to Arlington’s insane eight-run outburst in the final inning of the 2013 final to complete a wild comeback against Fox Lane. Bill Flatow came in and faced two batters, allowing two runs to make it 8-3, which led to Chappy calling on ace Kumar Nambiar. Nambiar had thrown seven innings on Saturday and seven more on Wednesday, so Mamaroneck was understandably trying to avoid using him. Without any time to warm up in the pen, Nambiar had some initial struggles, giving up a hit and two walks to cut the lead to just 8-6. One more hit would have likely tied the game, but Nambiar buckled down when he absolutely had to with back-to-back gigantic strikeouts to end the inning. “A little frustration, but I just felt a little rushed. I wasn’t comfortable yet,” Nambiar said, adding that once the lead got down to two runs, “(Strikeout) was the only thing I wanted. Just throw it right by him.”
• With all of that being said, Kreinces deserves a ton of credit for the way that he pitched on short notice after not throwing much for a few weeks. “Not having a start before the section finals and then to step up on a huge stage like this and throw five innings, words can’t explain it,” Nambiar said. “He carried us today, and it was a huge reason why we got the section title.”
• Since I’ve been covering Section 1 baseball, I’ve always heard a lot about Mamaroneck’s struggles to live up to the back-to-back state titles that the program claimed in 2008-09. I’ve seen some pretty good Tigers’ teams, but they hadn’t advanced past the semis in any season since ’09, which often led to the perception that they were falling short of expectations. Some of the players that I spoke to on Saturday spoke about the satisfaction that came with finally living up to those standards and carving out their own legacy. “It’s like we’re making our own history here,” catcher Andy Karlan said. “We always talk about, ‘Let’s be like (Sean) Hagan and (Matt) McGovern and (Mike) Rosenfeld. We want to do that.’ Earlier today at the high school, we were taking BP, and then we went into the office and had some lunch. We were looking at the yearbook and we found pictures of them. That’s who we look up to.”
• While all three games on Saturday were close, the most impressive championship win came from Tuckahoe on Wednesday. I don’t know how good the rest of the Class C teams are around the state, but the Tigers dominated the competition in this area. They handled Schechter with a 10-0 win in the title game and Austin Pope looks like a legitimate ace. Factor in effective pitchers such as Taz Edmiidz and Mike McLaughlin, plus a lineup that has surprising depth for a small school, and you have to like Tuckahoe’s chances to go on a run in the state playoffs.
• Looking ahead to regionals, we’ll have three teams playing on Friday in the regional semis. Tuckahoe will play Section 9 champ Chester at Cantine Field in Saugerties at 3 p.m., followed by Mamaroneck playing Section 9 champ Valley Central on the same field at 6. Albertus Magnus will be playing Section 9 champ Highland, but the time and location is still TBD. Freeman texted me on Sunday and said that they’re hoping to move the game to Rockland County (probably North Rockland or Clarkstown South) since Magnus has its graduation on Friday night, so stay tuned for that. Byram Hills got the best draw of a bunch with a bye to Saturday’s regional final against the Saugerties (Section 9) vs. Union-Endicott (Section 4) winner. I’ll have scouting reports posted later in the week.
File photos from The Journal News