By Bill Landon
Northport’s No. 8-seeded baseball team blanked No. 5 Smithtown West, 7-0, to advance to the Class AA county championship behind pitching ace Nick Palmerini, who shut down the Bulls by throwing six shutout innings to lead his team to victory Wednesday.
Senior Joe Stockman started off swinging for the Tigers, as the shortstop ripped the ball down the right sideline for a stand-up double in the first at bat. Junior pitcher and third baseman Jake McCarthy drew a walk, and junior second baseman George Sutherland stepped into the batter’s box. A passed ball at the plate advanced both runners into scoring position, and Sutherland smacked the ball through the gap to bring Stockman home for an early lead.
Smithtown West had several opportunities, but stranded all runners on base.
Again, Stockman’s bat spoke as he went drove the ball to the opposite side of the field for his second double of the game. Junior outfielder Frankie Stola was up next, and was hit by a pitch and sent to first base.
“The rain delay wasn’t a distraction — we stayed focused, we had a great practice yesterday,” said Stockman of the game being pushed from Tuesday to Wednesday. “[Smithtown West] a good team and great competitors, but we had a great pitcher on the mound both days and we did what we needed to do to get the win.”
Just like in the bottom of the first, Smithtown West’s passed ball pitch put both runners in scoring position in the third. Sutherland had a base hit, plating Stockman, and junior outfielder Matt Lindley found the gap to score Stola for a 3-0 advantage. After Lindley stole second, senior pitcher and first baseman Dan Heller’s bat cracked as his base hit brought Sutherland home. Senior first baseman Tom Neary stepped up to the plate, and after taking the first two pitches, he jumped on the third and kept the rally alive when he rocketed a shot over the right-field fence for a home run and 6-0 lead.
“They had tough pitching in that first game so we had to stay focused mentally at the plate, have good at bats and get the little things done,” Neary said. “We won’t take a day off; we’ll stay focused in practice. We can’t afford to lay back — we’ve got a tough opponent coming up — so we have to work just as hard as we’ve been working.”
Smithtown West had seen enough and a change was made at the mound. The Bulls went through three pitchers on the afternoon in an attempt to stall Northport’s onslaught, which it did.
Palmerini retired the order in the top of the next two innings, and Northport threatened in the bottom of the fifth. After plating another runner, Northport put runners on first and second, but an infield heater was fielded for a clean double play to retire the side.
Desperate for a run, Smithtown West advanced both runners into scoring position on a passed ball at the plate. With one out, the runner at third took a healthy lead, and junior shortstop Nick Trabbachi drilled the deep to right field for the sacrifice fly. Lindley, the right fielder, caught the ball on the run and fired the ball toward home plate. The runner on third hesitated, and Lindley’s throw to the plate hit its mark in time to force the runner back to third.
“I was hoping he would go, but he held up and we got out of that inning,” Lindley said. “My pitcher just sets it up every time and we’re always ready for the play. It’s pure adrenaline. [We’re] so excited to make it to the counties.”
Although neither team faced each other in the regular season Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said Northport was everything he thought they’d be, and then some.
“They threw strikes, they didn’t walk anyone, they challenged us, they were very aggressive and they attacked us early in the count,” Nucci said. “They’re a tremendous hitting team and they strung their hits together. I think they have a very good chance to win the county.”
Palmerini pitched his way out of a jam, stranding two runners to retire the side.
“I had to work back in counts — I got into a little bit of trouble,” Palmerini said. “Their one through four batters are very good, so I had to throw a lot of off-speed pitches and mix it up more than usual.”
McCarthy took over at the mound for Smithtown West’s final shot at the win, and sat the batters down in order.
Northport will travel to No. 2 West Islip for the first of a three-game series on May 28 at noon. The second game will be May 30 at Northport at noon.
“These guys are a loose group — they expect to win and they go out and play to win,” Northport head coach John De Martini said. “I thought we played great defense, we hit the ball well, and more than that, we got some awesome pitching. The kids have done that all year long.”