By Steven Zaitz
The Houdinis of Huntington pulled off yet another escape — and it was the bullpen that wrote the final act.
The Blue Devils fended off a wild seventh inning comeback attempt by the Northport Tigers and won by a score of 4-3, May 27 in Huntington. Devils starting pitcher Palmer O’Beirne was brilliant again, going 6 1/3 innings and striking out nine. Closer Alex Bellissimo got the last two outs with the bases loaded to end the game.
“That last inning was definitely a lot of pressure, for sure,” the senior Bellissimo said. “But the whole time I was thinking that I’ve got to close it out for Palmer because he pitched a great game. I just stayed relaxed and tried to execute my pitches.”
While Bellissimo was relaxing, everyone else in attendance was on the edge of their seats — in the dugouts and in the stands. As the afternoon settled into early dusk, the other extra-curricular activities around the Huntington High School Athletic Complex had ended. Lacrosse players, cheerleaders and other members of the student body began to buzz around the ballfield to watch these two fiery rivals play this seventh and deciding inning. They were in for a treat.
Three weeks prior to this game, Huntington stunned Northport with four runs in their final turn at bat to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 victory. Northport was looking for a little payback.
But O’Beirne, a junior, was perfect through three innings in this rematch and had given up only three hits and a run through six. He came out for the seventh inning having thrown 95 pitches and immediately showed signs of fatigue by giving up a single to Richard Kershow to start the inning. He had struck Kershow out twice before.
“I got two strikes on him and tried to finish him off with a curve,” the 6-foot-3-inch fireballer said. “I left it up a little bit and he was able to get it into right field for a hit. I wish I stuck with my fastball there.”
After getting sophomore Owen Johansen to fly out to right, Tiger first baseman Joe Gonzales lined a double to right center, bringing the potential tying run to the plate and knocking O’Beirne, tired or not, out of the game, as he reached his pitch count maximum of 105.
“I would have liked to have been out there to finish the game,” O’Beirne said. “I was counting pitches in my head instead of focusing on getting the batters out.”
So O’Beirne, who was named after Baltimore Oriole pitching great Jim Palmer, moved over to first base and his teammate Bellissimo was called upon to put out a smoldering fire — and things were about to get even hotter.
Northport shortstop Ray Moreno drove in Kershow with a single to right. Speedy leftfielder Tom Tini, who saved two runs the previous inning with a spinning circus catch, legged out an infield hit on a very close play at first base. Gonzales came in to score on Tini’s hit and Huntington’s lead was suddenly just a single run.
Right fielder Rocco Stola drew a walk, loading the bases and more importantly, putting the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with only one out.
Northport catcher Mike Catrone stepped up to the plate. He had driven in a run with a well-struck liner in the previous inning but was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. But Bellissimo got him to pop out to third and the Devils were one out away from victory — the late spring daylight now fading as the drama came to its crescendo.
Number three hitter and centerfielder Dan Thompson was the last hope for Northport.
“Getting that pop out was huge and took some of the pressure off,” Bellissimo said. “But I still had one more out to get.”
With two strikes, Thomson smoked a humpback liner to straightaway center field. The pinging sound of aluminum on rawhide set off alarm bells over the now-hushed diamond. Centerfielder Kyle Colleluori, who seems to find a way to contribute every time he steps on a baseball field, ranged over a few steps to his left to snag the liner before it could find the grass. Ballgame over. Blue Devils win.
“Off the bat, I thought it was hit pretty good and maybe they just took the lead,” said the relieved reliever Bellissimo. “But I turned around and saw that Kyle was there, as he always is. What a great win!”
With the victory, Huntington and Northport, along with Bay Shore and Connetquot, sit atop the League II standings and are scrambling to best each other for playoff seeding.
“In our league, almost anyone can beat anyone,” O’Beirne said. “There are no guarantees.”
If these two teams meet again, it will be in the League II playoffs, and if recent history is any indication, there is one thing that can be guaranteed — that game will have another seventh inning storybook ending.
Who will author it?