An old baseball adage says to beat a dominant starting pitcher, you have to get to him early, and facing one of the most dominant hurlers in recent Long Island baseball history, the Wantagh Warriors executed the game plan to perfection. The first six batters to face Shoreham-Wading River standout senior starter Brian Morrell all reached base, and the first four eventually scored in a nightmare first inning for the Wildcats, who dropped the Class A Long Island championship game June 3 at SUNY Old Westbury, 4-2.
The Warriors sent nine men to the plate in the bottom of the first on four hits and two walks to jump out early, and eventually hand Shoreham-Wading River its first loss since April 5. The loss snapped a 20-game Wildcats win streak. Wantagh was crowned the Long Island Class A champion for the second consecutive season after knocking off Mount Sinai for the title in 2016.
“I think they had a good approach because Brian’s hard to hit, so they probably just started hacking away when they could and got a good piece of the ball and did what they had to do to win,” senior catcher and team captain Thomas Brady said of Wantagh’s big inning against Morrell.
The University of Notre Dame-bound starting pitcher finished his rockiest outing of the season allowing four earned runs on five hits, three walks and five strikeouts over six innings. He eventually settled in, and only one Warrior base runner reached second base after the first inning.
“It was like a dream come true kind of,” Brady said of the scorching stretch of baseball Shoreham-Wading River put together to reach the final game. “We all worked as hard as we possibly could. I love these guys to death and now we’re all moving on to a new chapter. Hopefully the younger kids can bring it home next year.”
The Wildcats’ entire starting lineup was comprised of seniors Saturday. Head coach Kevin Willi reflected on the successes of the outgoing 16-man senior class following their last game in blue and gold.
“They were awesome — I mean really all 16 guys were diehard all year,” he said. “They worked their tails off the entire time. I wish we could have came home with a Long Island championship for them, but that’s the way it happens. A county championship is a pretty good accomplishment, especially with the best record in program history; those are good things to remember that these guys earned.”
Wantagh’s left-handed starting pitcher, junior Anthony Fontana, kept the Wildcats’ normally potent offense off balance for most of the game. He allowed just two earned runs on five singles and a walk over five innings of work. Saturday was the first time all season Shoreham-Wading River had been held to two runs or less.
“He’s curveball heavy, so a lot of our guys don’t want to swing at a first pitch curveball, but when the pitcher gets ahead with a curveball the batter is already at a disadvantage,” Willi said. “We hit him hard a bunch of times, and right at guys. He did a good job.”
Despite the slow day offensively, the Wildcats still had a chance in the bottom of the seventh inning trailing 4-2 with Morrell — who hit two grand slams in the previous three games — at the plate as the tying run. He grounded out to third on a high chopper to end the Wildcats’ hopes of heading upstate for a shot at a state championship. Despite the disappointing conclusion, Willi reiterated how proud he was of the achievements of his 2017 squad.
“It was awesome — we played really well through that stretch,” he said of winning 20 straight. “Even this game we played well. We ran into a good Wantagh team.”