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Lou Petrucci

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Playoff game suspended due to inclement weather with No. 2 West Islip ahead 4-1

Third baseman Matty Maurer hurls the ball to first base. Photo by Desirée Keegan

A stroke of lightning might be what Ward Melville’s baseball team needed to turn things around.

First baseman Ryan Hynes reaches for a high throw in time to get the out. Photo by Desirée Keegan

With rain, thunder and lightning delaying the No. 7 Patriots’ second-round playoff game against host No. 2 West Islip May 15, it also ends the Lions’ one-run-per-inning scoring streak, with the two teams resuming
play May 16 at 4 p.m., barring no additional weather setbacks. West Islip held a 4-1 lead when play was suspended.

“We played uncharacteristically poorly on defense,” Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci said. “And it cost us.”

Ward Melville started the bottom of the inning off strong, with junior Max Nielsen smacking an RBI-single to shallow right center field on a 3-2 count to score senior Brady Doran from second.

“I knew either it was going to be a ball by a long shot or he was going to give me an easy pitch to just flick into the outfield, and he gave me just that,” Nielsen said discussing his discipline at the plate. “My approach was to simply put the ball in a hole somewhere. When I saw Brady [Doran] score I knew that it was going to be a good game.”

Petrucci said he expects that from one of his star starting pitchers and designated hitter.

“He’s been doing that all year,” the coach said. “Max had a big hit right there, and we need more of that from other guys, too. Baseball’s not a one-man show. Max did his job, but we have to come back the next inning and shut them down, and we didn’t do it.”

Max Nielsen races to first base. Photo by Desirée Keegan

West Islip answered with a ground-rule double, a bunt and a sacrifice fly to tie the score, 1-1. A grounder to third ended the inning, but Ward Melville came up empty over the next three innings while West Islip scored once in each. The Patriots also couldn’t cash in despite loading the bases in the top of the third with two outs.

“We came up empty a few times with runners in scoring position, but it’s hard adjusting and sitting back against a pitcher who is throwing low-to-mid 70s,” Nielsen said. “On the defensive side of things, we had a few hops and plays that didn’t go our way, so that’s baseball for ya. We knew that West Islip was going to be a tough team to beat, but we know that we can beat them. We wanted to get ahead early and really get into their bullpen.”

Ward Melville will dive into its bullpen, with the pitch count rules leaving both starters ineligible to return to the mound for the remainder of the suspended game. Matt DiGennaro will come out of the bullpen to replace Ethan Farino for the Patriots.

“I don’t know who they’re going to use, but I can’t worry about them, I have to worry about Ward Melville,” Petrucci said. “We’ve had the right hitters up, but we couldn’t get the big hits. Hopefully with a day change we’ll get these opportunities again and try to put some good swings on the ball. We have to see if we can fight back.”

Second baseman Logan Doran tosses the ball to first base.

Nielsen said the team has been in tough hitting situations before, and Petrucci added players have struggled all year with two-out production, and that was the case through most of the day. The head coach said he told his boys following the postponement that the plays West Islip made gave them a 4-1 lead, and the plays the Patriots didn’t make helped Ward Melville to a 4-1 deficit.

“Offensively we’ve struggled all year with two-out hitting — now it’s a playoff game and we’re doing it again,” Petrucci said. “Hopefully we can make up for it over the next three innings. The season’s not over — we’ve had a great one, the kids have played hard all year, we just have to continue to play hard for the next nine outs and see where the chips fall.”

Results from the second part of the suspended game were not available at press time May 16.

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Starting pitcher slams a double, scores game-winning run to go with 11 Ks during his complete game

Starting southpaw Max Nielsen hurls a pitch. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Nothing is stopping Ward Melville’s starting pitcher Max Nielsen from winning a game.

Trading a ball for a bat, the lefty led off the bottom of the fourth with a double, knocking the ball into the outfield on a bad bounce, and two more hits eventually scored what would be the game-winning run in a 2-1 Patriots victory over Patchogue-Medford April 17.

Brady Doran gets under an infield popup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Nielsen, who added 11 strikeouts from the mound during a complete game while allowing just three hits and one walk, said he knew he’d won the game once he crossed home plate.

“I knew that was going to be the run that’d win it for us,” the southpaw said. “Because I knew I wasn’t going to give up another run.”

The junior allowed hits in the first and second and hit a batter in the second before a Patchogue-Medford bunt loaded the bases. He struck out the following hitter but allowed the only run later in the same inning. He surrendered his only walk in the top of the fourth, but also struck out two to get back on track.

“I always try to give my team the best opportunity to win,” Nielsen said. “I wanted to get ahead with the fastball, because once I get ahead I can start going through my other pitches and making it harder on the hitters. I had a rough second inning, but my defense got me out of it.”

Logan Doran and Kyle Rafferty each went 2-for-3 with a stolen base. Doran scored the Patriots’ only other run, and his brother Brady Doran also went 2-for-3. While the brothers said Ward Melville was slow to start, the Patriots are now firing on all cylinders, feeling in their element.

Brady Doran, Kyle Rafferty and Alex Russo leap up in celebration after the win. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I wanted to attack the fastball, and he had a pretty good curveball,” junior second baseman Brady Doran said of Patchogue-Medford’s pitcher. “I’m comfortable, stay confident and try to attack the fastball and hit it hard. We gel; we’re a close team that really plays well together.”

Nielsen shared a similar sentiment, but said the funny feelings from the team’s uneven start are gone now.

“I can’t think of a weakness,” he said. “Our defense is great, I know all of the pitchers on staff are going to give us a great game and we hit.”

Head coach Lou Petrucci said he thought his southpaw controlled the game, and said he liked that he stayed under 100 pitches. Petrucci said the Raiders’ record didn’t fool him (2-7), because he knew he’d be facing a challenging opponent.

“Randall [Alejo] pitched a great game and we got away with a win today,” he said. “It’s a big rivalry game. We tried to have good at -bats, put good swings on the ball, we didn’t strike out much and the kids are showing great improvement. Our pitching staff is keeping the scores down, and now we’re working on getting the clutch hits, but we’re playing hard.”

The Patriots have now won five straight and are tied with Sachem East (7-2) at the No. 2 spot in League I behind Longwood (8-1). Ward Melville travels to Patchogue-Medford for Game 2 of the series. The first pitch is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

Ward Melville's Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

When Ben Brown was 2 years old he’d break windows throwing baseballs, dreaming of being drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Now, the 6-foot, 6-inch Ward Melville pitcher is living that dream. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round on the third and final day of the MLB Amateur Draft.

He watched and waited as the names rolled by. He wasn’t shocked, but the suspense was killing him.

“When I found out, it was such a relief,” Brown said. “I jumped up really high and I gave my mom a big hug. It’s such an incredible blessing.”

Ward Melville sophomore pitcher Ben Brown hurls a pitch from the mound in the Patriots’ 6-0 game three loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on June 4. Photo by Bill Landon

The stress of waiting was almost too much for his mother. She contemplated going to visit her father to take her mind off the stress.

“I’ve been watching this pot too long,” Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown said as she got ready to walk out the door.

Urged to stay, she decided to pull laundry off the line instead, and sat down with her iPad to watch the draft ticker. Moments later, she heard him scream.

“I heard him screaming before I even saw his name pop up,” she said, laughing. “Luckily I was still here. It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball. He did it, and I never doubted he could.”

Brown amassed a 15-3 record over his career as a Patriot, tied for second on the school’s all-time wins list. He went 7-0 during the regular season in his sophomore year, and after a loss in the playoffs, went 3-0 to start his junior year.

He hadn’t given up a single run, but then an unexpected challenge put his resolve to the test.

Brown’s appendix burst, and he needed emergency surgery. He lost 20 pounds during his setback.

“He was very, very sick,” Wilson-Brown said. “He thought he had struggles before that, and to come out even stronger and more determined, I think that’s why we’re here today.”

During his time away from the mound, the strength Wilson-Brown saw in her son is why she said she knows he has what it takes to climb the ranks and make it to the big leagues.

“It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball.”

—Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown

“Dreams do come true,” she said. “This kid has been holding onto that dream for dear life, all of his life, and someone watching as closely as I could, as a parent — he’s a good boy with a good heart and this is so much-deserved.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci saw it, too.

“It was a long road for him and he had to work hard,” he said. “Everybody roots for Ben. He’s just a good kid and he’s done a good job.”

The sight of scouts is nothing new at Ward Melville, so when they came to see Brown, he relished it.

“I think every game I pitch in is a big game, but with the scouts there it made everything intensified,” he said. “Every little mistake was a big mistake, and I had to be on my best all the time. I really liked that.”

Petrucci said he liked how it lit up the rest of the team.

“Ben’s a gamer,” he said, laughing. “Ben’s a competitor. Would he get excited when the scouts were there? Sure. But I think the people that were most excited about having the scouts there were his teammates, because they love Ben.”

The two-year captain follows in the footsteps of Ward Melville draftees Anthony Kay in 2016 and Steve Matz in 2009. He pitched in front of Matz during a training session with Petrucci in seventh grade, before Matz was called up to pitch for the New York Mets. He was 6 feet tall then.

“I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

— Ben Brown

“They’re two really great people, and it’s really cool to be in the same ranks as Anthony Kay and Steven Matz,” Brown said. “We have a phenomenal program, and it’s no surprise guys are getting drafted. Lou has been through it all and he really guided me through this process.”

Petrucci actually first met Brown when he was in his class at Minnesauke Elementary School. After seeing him go 7-0 in his sophomore season, he knew his pitcher was on his way to a standout high school career. He watched Brown top out at 92 mph his senior season and have a strong showing in front of the Phillies brass two weeks before the draft, and he knew success was only a few picks away.

“We knew it was coming,” he said. “It was a matter of when.”

Now it’s only a matter of time before Brown is in the major leagues, the head coach said. As the youngest player picked by the Phillies — born Sept. 9, 1999 — Petrucci noted Brown could pitch three years in the minor leagues and still be a teenager.

“I think his determination and dedication to baseball is what sets him apart from the average high school pitcher,” Petrucci said. “If he signs and forgoes college, he’ll be in the big leagues in five years. No question in my mind.”

Commack’s Jesse Berardi and Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell were also selected by the Phillies this year. Morrell, the second player to win back-to-back Yasterzemski Awards — given to the best player in Suffolk County — was picked in the 35th round. Morrell trained with Brown at Infiniti Performance in Port Jefferson Station.

Ward Melville’s Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

“Brian and I are really close,” he said. “He’s such a great kid. We actually joked about getting drafted to the same team, and we didn’t think it would happen.”

Brown has committed to play baseball at Siena College in Albany, but after being drafted, he’s more determined than ever.

“It makes me more motivated to become a better baseball player,” he said. “I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

His mother said she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“This is his dream — How do you take that away from a kid?” Wilson-Brown said. “We couldn’t even consider. The joy in this house that day was something I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that moment.”

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contract. If a player opts not to sign and attend school instead, he will be eligible to be drafted again in three years. But Petrucci is already dreaming up Matz or Kay versus Brown scenarios.

“They’re making baseball relevant—it’s nice to see Long Island baseball get the recognition it deserves,” Petrucci said. “To see these kids pursue their dreams and have their dreams unfold right before our very eyes, that’s what you want to see. We all work to see kids realize their dreams, and Ben Brown was the next in line.”

Patriots shut out Smithtown in double-elimination game

By Bill Landon

Logan Doran delivered.

The Ward Melville player homered in the first inning, and drove in two runs in the second to give the No. 1 Patriots baseball team a 3-0 home win over No. 9 Smithtown East May 23, to advance to the Class AA semifinals.

Doran said he was looking for his pitch to set the tone early.

“It was a 2-0 fastball, and I was looking fastball dead red,” he said. “I saw it high and in, and just took a big swing on it. I didn’t think it was out. I was just running and then I heard my first base coach say it’s out.”

Ward Melville threatened two batters later, when Joseph Rosselli singled into shallow left, and Michael Sepe found the gap with two outs, but Smithtown East pitcher Nick Harvey fanned the last batter to strand the runners.

With two outs, Smithtown East’s Marc Barbiglia singled in the top of the second, Ward Melville catcher Tom Hudzik fired the ball to his twin brother Matt at second base to catch him on a steal attempt. The strike arrived in plenty of time for Matt Hudzik to apply the tag.

“They’re a hard-hitting team — they hit well last year and they came back and are hitting even better this year,” Tom Hudzik said. “It was Logan’s home run that got the momentum going.”

The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the inning when Trevor Cronin singled to start things off. James Curcio followed with a fly ball to right field to put runners on the corners.

Again, Doran was the difference maker as he blasted the ball to right, plating Cronin and Curcio for a 3-0 lead.

“We played them [twice] and we knew what we were coming into,” Doran said. “We had to stay focused like we did the first two games. Just come out hot — that’s what we’ve been talking about. I think our team played great, and we just got to keep it rolling.”

The Patriots defense was just as potent as their bats, and the boys turned a double play in the top of the third for the first two outs. Later in the inning, with a runner on base, Hudzik sent another laser throw to his brother, who again waited for the runner to end the inning.

Ward Melville pitcher Max Nielson kept the Bulls at bay the rest of the way, spreading 76 pitches over the seven innings with four strikeouts and allowing just three hits in his shutout performance. It was the second playoff victory of his varsity career.

“The key to winning today was our defense,” Nielsen said. “But Logan’s base-hit knock sealed the deal.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci also had high words of praise for Doran.

“He’s our captain ,and that’s what captains do,” he said. “That home run in the first gave us momentum.”

But he also gave other credit where due.

“Max pitched a heck of a game,” Petrucci said. “He kept their lead-off batter off base — he made quality pitches and you’ve got to give the guy credit.”

It was the third time these teams faced each other this postseason, each giving the other its first loss to send them into the double-elimination bracket.

“Bottom line is they played a little bit better than us, and they deserved to win,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said of Ward Melville. “Our kids hung in there — we had a very nice season — and I’m proud of them.”

Ward Melville hosted the first of a three-game series on Wednesday against No. 4 West Islip, but results were not available by press time. The two teams will face off again on the Lions’ home turf May 25, at 4 p.m. The finals are set for May 31 at Stony Brook University, 3 p.m.

This version was updated to correctly identify the second baseman as Matt Hudzik.

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Chris Buehler hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Just call on Joseph Rosselli to get the job done.

Tom Hudzik lays down the bunt while Joseph Rosselli races across home plate for a 2-0 lead. Photo by Bill Landon

Ahead 1-0, the race was on for the Ward Melville senior who was attempting a move that hadn’t been successfully completed since 2006. With a big leap off third, he rushed toward home following a successful Tom Hudzik bunt for a suicide squeeze that put the Patriots up 2-0 en route to a 4-2 win over Brentwood May 1.

“Coach Lou [Petrucci] brought us in and told us he wanted to attempt it,” Rosselli said. “The batter’s got to make contact with the ball because if he doesn’t, I’m out 100 times out of 100, so the pressure was on Tom Hudzik, and he came up big for us today.”

As the Brentwood catcher chased down the dribbler, Rosselli snuck across the plate, and although Hudzik was tagged out, his job was done.

Brentwood responded in the top of the second when Cooper Maselli blasted a home run over left center to make it a one-run game. A shot to center field that caused a collision placed the tying run at first, but starting left-handed pitcher Chris Buehler fanned the next two batters to extinguish the threat.

“I had my stuff, but I was leaving some pitches up,” Buehler said. “I got them down and then I felt I could go the distance. They had their ace throwing hard, good pitches — good curves, so we just had to get a couple of runs.”

James Curcio dives to make a catch in center field. Photo by Bill Landon

Petrucci had all the confidence in his starter.

“He’s a competitor and an outstanding young man,” the head coach said. “He’s not fazed by these big situations.”

Even after Brentwood made it a new game with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth, and Maselli threatened to make matters worse for Ward Melville with a shot to deep center that after some debate wound up a ground-rule double with no outs, Buehler made sure Maselli never made it further than third. Then, his Patriots worked to get those runs he was talking about.

“Chris Buehler struck out three good hitters,” Petrucci said. “He concentrated. He’s been a great force for us this year — he’s 4-0 so far — he’s our Monday guy.”

After a base hit by junior Trevor Cronin, sophomore Max Nielson smacked a ground-rule double of his own. With two outs, a walk was drawn to load the bases, and Rosselli moved into the batter’s box. The senior waited for his pitch, and jumped on a fastball. He sent it deep to right field for a two-run double and a 4-2 lead.

Brentwood made three running errors over the next two innings, and Ward Melville’s defense made its opponent pay each time to preserve the lead.

“Once we give our dominant pitching staff a lead, it’s almost always a solidified [win],” Rosselli said. “So once we got that 4-2 lead, everyone settled down a little We put our faith in our pitchers, and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”

Vinny Pepitone grabs the ball before tagging out the runner. Photo by Bill Landon

The new state standards limit the amount of pitches an athlete can toss in a given day, while allotting a certain period of rest time for each increment of pitches. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

With elbow injuries running through all levels of baseball at an almost epidemic-like rate, baseball coaches in New York will now have state mandated standards to adhere to in handling their young pitchers. Although a step in the right direction, some coaches don’t think the new rules go far enough.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association unveiled its first stab at guidelines coaches and their pitchers need to follow last December. The regulations include pitch counts — there’s now a cap of 105 in a single day at the varsity level — and nights of rest needed for various pitch-count tiers, before a pitcher can return to the mound.

File photo by Bill Landon

“Action by the NYSPHSAA Executive Committee is a giant step forward in doing our part to protect and support our student-athlete baseball players,” state baseball coordinator Ed Dopp said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor and adjust the pitch-count rules in an attempt to always improve opportunities for our student-athletes and address safety as best we can.”

Pitch counts are also in place for junior varsity and middle school pitchers. Junior varsity players cannot exceed 85 in an outing.

Four nights of rest are mandatory for varsity players throwing between 96 and 105 pitches. Three nights are required for those throwing between 66 and 95 pitches; two for 31 to 65 pitches; and one for up to 30 pitches. The limits change in the postseason, where the maximum pitches allowed at the varsity level jumps to 125.

“These pitch-count rules are a Band-Aid on a problem that is 2 feet wide,” Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci said. “What makes these doctors think that it’s alright for a young kid to throw three days in a row, while it’s under a certain amount of pitches, but Mariano Rivera, who is a trained professional, can’t do it? Big leaguers don’t pitch on the third or fourth day.”

Petrucci also pointed out the fatigue pitchers endure when throwing a particularly strenuous frame, say 30 pitches in one inning, noting the rules don’t take that into account. He also had a problem with the fact that freshmen and seniors, all adhere to the same rules.

“You can bring up an eighth-grader and he can throw 105 pitches on varsity — it doesn’t make much sense,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said. “It should be about development.”

File photo by Bill Landon

Another imperfection is pitching on any mound other than in a high school game is not taken into consideration — when a student-athlete practices, warms-up, if he takes part in an outside league, travel team or showcases.

“One of the biggest criticisms is the amount of outside baseball that kids play,” Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said. “It’s difficult to keep track of, but it’s about communication. I’ve encouraged kids to ask their travel coaches to communicate with me. It’s going to be a necessity.”

Centereach head coach Mike Herrschaft said the speed at which a pitcher throws should also be taken into consideration.

“There’s a correlation between how fast they throw and the rest they need,” he said. “If I had a kid throwing in the 70s and everything’s healthy I might feel comfortable with them throwing 105 pitches and going on the sixth day, where if I had a kid throwing 90 mph, I’m never comfortable with them pitching on the sixth day.”

For some schools, especially those in the lower leagues, the pitchers are typically the best player on the team and play multiple positions when they’re not on the mound. This too can wear out an arm, and isn’t measured in the first round of rules.

“I never let my pitcher catch or my catcher pitch,” Herrschaft said. “Those have been my standards, especially more recently with the increase in Tommy John surgery and concerns.”

For schools like Kings Park, they need to have athletes play multiple positions. But most coaches try to limit their throwing in one way or another, or give those players more rest.

“To totally get them out of the lineup I think it’s impossible,” head coach Mike Luzim said. “It would negatively impact the normal day-to-day lineups and getting a team prepared to win.”

File photo by Bill Landon

Other new rules include if any pitcher at any level reached the count limit in the middle of an at-bat, he will be allowed to finish that hitter; both teams are required to track pitches on the official NYSPHSAA form and confirm after each inning; and at the game’s conclusion, a pitch count form will be signed by both team’s coaches or designated representatives, and a record will be used to determine which pitchers are available for future games.

“There’s room for manipulation,” Klee said. “It should be put in a database where everyone can see it.”

An app called GameChanger is one that tracks this, and other stats, and is used by many coaches across Long Island, like Klee and Luzim.

“Virginia and Kentucky both mandate that high school teams use GC for this very reason,” Game Changer representative David Kennedy said. “We would love it if New York did the same. It would streamline the process and allow each team to oversee pitch counts for players.”

Luzim said it could eliminate discrepancies that could make a difference throughout the season.

“Right now, everything goes by the home book, so if there were a number that was off by one or two pitches it goes back to the home book, and what if the home book is off by one pitch? And that’s a 95 instead of a 94? That could change the number of days and that could lead to problems or arguments,” he said. “I think there will be a million different scenarios that come up this year that will have to be looked at.”

Other tricky scenarios include a game postponed due to darkness and doubleheaders. Currently, when it comes to doubleheaders, a hurler competing in the first game cannot pitch in the second.

“It would be reasonable to have a kid close the end of the first game and then maybe pitch a couple of innings in the second game,” Rosen said.

File photo by Bill Landon

Klee disagreed.

“I think that if they throw once that day they shouldn’t come back — it’s dangerous,” he said. “I would be an advocate for making it even stricter, meaning less pitches and more rest.”

He also doesn’t like the wording of a “nights” rest, which was changed from a days rest. To him, there’s a loophole there that could count the night after the game as all the rest that’s needed.

Luzim said he’d like to see a cap on the amount of pitches per week.

“You can still end up throwing in a kid who pitches 95 pitches, right below the last level, and they could come back on the Thursday game and throw 105 pitches on that Thursday,” he said, “Then, they could really come back on that following Monday. So they could really end up throwing over 300 pitches in one week.”

For now, the coaches are just happy to see New York is trying to regulate the game to protect players.

“I get that they’re trying to address the problem, but we need to address the problem with more substantive thinking,” Petrucci said. “I think people today don’t trust the coaches. We’ve been doing this quite a while. Us coaches care about these kids, and we’re going to continue to push for their safety.”

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Logan Doran brings home Dominic Lamonica just before the tag to give the Patriots an opening-round playoff win

By Bill Landon

With both teams tied at four runs apiece, it wasn’t until the bottom of the ninth inning when Ward Melville’s Logan Doran smacked an infield grounder that sent teammate Dominic Lamonica racing and diving for home plate just ahead of the tag, to win the opening round of the Class AA playoffs, 5-4, against Half Hollow Hills West Monday afternoon.

“This is a great bunch of kids they play hard all the time and that’s a great baseball team over there — Hills West, they’re well-coached by a Hall of Fame coach, but our kids did a great job,” said Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci. “We battled back and we didn’t panic when we were down 3-1, and the kids got some clutch hits.”

Ward Melville’s Lamonica also struck first for his team, when he hit the ball to right field, driving in Brandon Lee for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.

After starting pitcher Ben Brown let up just one hit in the first three innings, Hills West made him pay in the top of the fourth.

With a runner on first, Hills West drove the ball deep to center field that bounced over the fence, triggering a ground-rule double that put both runners in scoring position. A single to right field plated both runners, to give the Colts a 2-1 lead, but Lee followed with a pick-off at second for the second out to stop the bleeding. It didn’t last for long though, as the Colts smacked a shot to deep right field for a sliding triple, and the next batter drove the runner home.

“We’ve had games like this one all year long — fighting right to the end — so when we come into big moments like this we’re more prepared than other teams,” Lamonica said. “[Hills West is] a great team. Their pitching was phenomenal — they have one of the best pitchers in Suffolk County. We were able to barrel a few balls off of him, get a few runs and they were able to do the same against Ben [Brown].”

The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the fourth, and Troy Davern started it off when he ripped an infield heater, and after a defensive bobble, beat the throw to first. Tom Hudzik stepped into the batters’ box next and drilled a long ball to right center field that bounced over the fence for the second ground-rule double of the game — moving Davern over to third. Nick Rizzi’s bat spoke next, and he hit an infield grounder that seemed to be a sure out, but Hills West made a throwing error to first, which plated Davern and Hudzik to tie the game 3-3. Rizzi stole second base, but was left stranded when the Colts retired the side.

With a runner on first, Hills West hit a stand-up double that put the runners in scoring position. The Colts finished the job with a rip to shallow left field that knocked in the opponent on third, to give the team a 4-3 edge in the top of the fifth.

The Patriots missed the opportunity to take the lead, and went down swinging with two runners on base. But Ward Melville was able to plate one more in the bottom of the sixth inning to make it a new game, and Tom Hudzik’s twin brother Matt took over the mound looking for the win.

“I’ve been in this situation multiple times this season, and every time I go [out there] I just have to throw strikes,” Matt Hudzik said. “I’ve got seven guys behind me that I know will make plays for me.”

Ward Melville missed another opportunity when the Patriots drew a walk to load the bases in the top of the eighth, and went down swinging.

After Matt Hudzik pitched three scoreless innings, the game came down to the bottom of the ninth.

“Matt Hudzik has been stalwart — he’s got five wins [now] out of the bullpen,” Petrucci said. “It was a great [showing by] Matt Hudzik and Ben Brown, who kept us in the game.”

Lamonica led off the inning with a routine pop-up that nobody called for, and the wind blew the ball as it dropped down for a charity single. Davern followed by drawing a walk, and after a strikeout, both runners advanced on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third now, Doran stepped into the batters’ box with two outs.

“I was in the same situation in the last game I played, and I didn’t get it done,” Doran said. “But I knew I’d get it done today in a big game.”

Lamonica, with a healthy lead, waited as Doran battled in the box, fouling several pitches before the count was full. Then, Doran drilled a ground ball up the middle to the shortstop, who fielded it cleanly and threw to home plate. But Lamonica had the lead, and beat the throw home for the game-winning run as the players rush to the diamond to pile up in celebration.

“You really don’t know the magnitude of the situation you’re in until you’re out of it,” Matt Hudzik said. “And it’s a great feeling once you’re out of it.”

No. 6 Ward Melville advances to take on No. 3 Smithtown East on the road May 17, at 4:15 p.m.

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