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Max Nielsen

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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.

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Chris Buehler hurls a heater. File photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon & Desirée Keegan

There are a few more Ward Melville pitchers following in the footsteps of alumni Steven Matz, Anthony Kay and Ben Brown.

Senior Chris Buehler and junior Max Nielsen are being added to Lou Petrucci’s pitching prospect pack after strong first starts to the season.

Max Nielson fires from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

Buehler notched six strikeouts over four hitless innings in the Patriots’ 5-0 season-opening win over William Floyd Colonials March 26. Ethan Farino went two innings and Drake Eggleston pitched one in the combined one-hit shutout.

“We’re just a bunch of guys that are all one big family — we’re all brothers,” said Buehler, a lefty who’s committed to Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. “We’ve been working hard in the offseason. I think we’ll be pretty good this year.”

Nielsen secured his first “W” of the year in Ward Melville’s 6-1 home victory against Patchogue-Medford Raiders the next day.

“We just have to get the bats going this season, we’ve got to hit the ball because there’s a lot of great teams in our division,” said University of Connecticut-bound Nielsen. “Pat-Med always gives us a great series.”

Nielsen’s got the pitching and the hitting taken care of. The junior lefty had a two-run single in the top of the sixth inning to give Ward Melville a 3-0 lead over William Floyd. Senior shortstop Logan Doran had an RBI-single in the seventh inning of that game. He and his brother Brady hit doubles in the win against Patchogue-Medford.

“We’re ready,” said Logan Doran, who noted it was a bit challenging getting ready for the season indoors. “Our pitching is still dominant across the Island, but our hitting has stepped up. [We’re starting] the season with the mindset that anybody can beat us, taking nothing for granted.”

Logan Doran celebrates scoring a run. File photo by Bill Landon

Senior center fielder Trevor Cronin said his team will continue to capitalize on two of its strengths.

“We have a size advantage,” the captain said. “But our pitching [is great], especially with guys that work this hard.”

Buehler said the Patriots have a target on their back, but said his team feeds off of that.

“We just have to limit the mistakes — limit the errors — limit [our] strikeouts and we have to score runs,” Buehler said. “Our biggest challenge this year is putting some runs together, but if we play small ball, I think we can win some games.”

He said he sees Sachem East being one of Ward Melville’s biggest threats. After hosting Longwood April 2 at 10 a.m. and Brentwood April 3 at 2 p.m., the Patriots will be put to the test. They’ll face the Flaming Arrows on the road April 5 at 10 a.m.

“I think they’ve done a great job in their offseason workouts, especially this winter,” Petrucci said. “When the kids look up to Steven Matz, Anthony Kay and [most recently, Ben Brown] — they’ve all been an inspiration to all of us — the pitching staff has taken on a whole new dimension here at Ward Melville.”

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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