It’s Commack, back-to-back

It’s Commack, back-to-back

By Steven Zaitz

Start the buses!

The Commack Cougars captured their second straight Class AAA Long Island championship on Saturday, getting another brilliant pitching performance from senior right-hander Evan Kay.

Kay, who will pitch for Stony Brook next spring, allowed no earned runs, three hits, no walks, and struck out 11 against Nassau champion Farmingdale to earn a 2-1 victory. This win sends Commack back to Binghamton, where they lost in the final round last year, to play in the New York State championship tournament this weekend.

It was the second time this week Kay was at the bottom of a celebratory pile of teammates at the Middle Country Athletic Complex in Selden, as he pitched a similarly spectacular game on May 26 against Sachem North to bag a fourth consecutive Suffolk County crown for the Commack varsity baseball program.

“Being on the bottom of that pile is rough, I gotta admit, but there is no place I’d rather be,” Kay said after handcuffing the mighty Dalers, who had averaged six runs a game in their Section VIII playoff march.

But it was Kay who had the recipe to serve up a giant bowl of goose egg soup to Farmingdale, mixing mostly off-speed and breaking pitches in the first few frames and then blowing fastballs by them in the middle and later innings. Kay struck out the side on only 12 pitches in the first inning and although it got a little dicey later on in the game, it was a harbinger of how the night would unfold for him and the Cougars.

Kay worked quickly, threw strikes, and had Daler hitters muttering under their breath as they walked back to the dugout. Kay faced only 24 batters in seven innings – only three over the minimum.

“It might have been the best I’ve ever thrown in a high school game,” said Kay. “I live for big moments like this.”

Commack head coach Matthew Salmon has now presided over two straight Long Island Championships. He has watched Kay evolve from a kid who just a few years ago couldn’t crack 60 mph on a radar gun into the equivalent of the Long Island Cy Young.

“The bigger the situation is, Evan gets a little bit stronger and a little bit tougher and that’s just the way he is built,” Salmon said. “He’s pitched in big spots his whole career and has been successful in every one of those spots, and I think a case can be made for Evan as being one of the best pitchers in the history of Long Island High School baseball.”

A bold statement, and that list might include major leaguers like Frank Viola, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, and Commack alum Pete Harnisch – all of whom pitched, or are still pitching, in the major leagues. But the numbers back Salmon’s case.

Kay holds the Long Island record for consecutive scoreless innings with 60. Twenty-eight of those innings were pitched in the 2023 postseason against stiff competition such as Pat-Med and Massapequa. He has won two Suffolk County championship-clinching games, two Long Island championship-clinching games, and he beat Shenendehowa in the New York State semifinals last year. 

All five of these wins were complete games and three of them were shutouts.

His lifetime record is 16-2, has 147 strikeouts and his WHIP, walks and hits per inning, is a microscopic 0.59.

“His résumé speaks for itself,” Salmon said.

Another bullet point on Kay’s résumé is his ability to snuff out rallies before they become multi-run innings.

In last week’s win against Sachem North, he got a huge strikeout with the tying run on third with one out in the seventh inning and stranded the potential tying and winning runs on base to win Suffolk County. Against the Dalers, he pinned a two-out base runner at second with a strikeout in the fifth to maintain a 1-0 lead. After Commack added a run in the fifth for a 2-0 lead, Kay worked around an error in the sixth and retired the heart of Farmingdale’s lineup, surrendering only an unearned run on a foul ball sacrifice fly by starting pitcher Jordan Welsh. Commack kept its lead.

The Cougars scored in the first inning on a two-out RBI single by right fielder Dean Vincent and added another in the fifth when pinch hitter Matt Shovelson singled and came around to score on catcher Robbie Mascia’s single to center.

It was in Kay’s capable hands entering the final frame. As is his wont, Kay looked out to centerfield and took a deep breath before stepping on the rubber to begin the inning. In this case, he took two deep breaths.

“Before that last inning I took an extra second to think about how big the moment was and I really wanted to lock in to get those last three outs,” Kay said.

In fine style, Kay struck out the side in order in the seventh on only 11 pitches. Upon strike three to his final victim, Farmingdale left fielder Patrick Sebber, Kay thrust both of his arms into the air, did a half-pirouette on the mound, and threw his glove into the dusty, orange Selden sky before being snowed under by his raucous teammates. The trophy party in left field with friends and family lasted well past dark.

Now the Cougars return to Mirabito Stadium to face Fairport, a suburb of Rochester, on Saturday in the New York State semifinal game. The pitching rotation has not been set and it will be either Kay or Ryan Krzemienski to pitch that game. If the Cougars win, they will face the winner of Shenendehowa [Section II] and reigning state champs Ketchum [Section I], who beat Commack 2-1 last year in the finals despite three Cougar pitchers other than Kay, who pitched the previous game, combining for a no-hitter.

With all the gaudy stats, accomplishments, and accolades that Kay has accumulated in his Commack career, he still has a gaping space for one more.

“I want to win the New York State championship. Then I’m good.”

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