By Bill Landon
Another strong pitching performance by Northport’s Nick Palmerini, leading to a 6-3 win Tuesday, helped the baseball team force a decisive game three for the Suffolk County Class AA title.
The Tigers got off to a rocky start, going down two runs in the opening inning, but battled their way back with a sacrifice fly to right field off the bat of junior outfielder Frankie Stola to plate senior shortstop Joe Stockman to trail by one. Northport missed an opportunity to tie the game, and stranded two runners to end the inning.
“We were really aggressive early in the count,” Stockman said after the win. “We struck out a lot in our last game, so we tried not to get too deep into the count, and we got some base hits when it really counted. Tomorrow we just have to come ready to play and we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing, getting bats on the ball.”
With runners on first and second, the Tigers went back to work in the bottom half of the second inning. This time, Stockman did the damage at the plate when he ripped the ball through the gap to bring senior pitcher and first baseman Dan Heller home to tie the game. With junior pitcher and shortstop Alex Reuter on third, junior second baseman George Sutherland stepped into the batter’s box. With two outs and a full count, Sutherland jumped on a fastball, drilling it to right field to score Reuter to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. Stola smoked an infield hit to the shortstop and wound up on first on a throwing error as Stockman crossed the plate to keep the rally alive.
Junior third baseman Jake McCarthy’s bat spoke next. He drilled the ball deep into the outfield to bring Stola home safely for a 5-2 lead.
“I think we had more confidence after seeing a guy like [Ray] Weber throw [in Saturday’s loss] that prepared us for this game,” McCarthy said. “We were ready for some good pitching, and the home crowd really does affect the game. It really gets us pumped up.”
With one out, West Islip threatened in the top of the inning with a sacrifice fly to right field that put two runners in scoring position, but Palmerini did what he’s done all season and fanned the final batter.
Northport’s margin began to shrink in the top of the fourth when the Lions, with two outs and a runner on second base, drove the ball home to make it a two-run game.
The tension built as West Islip loaded the bases. If the pitching ace was nervous though, he didn’t show it. Palmerini painted the corners and pitched his way out of the jam, as the Lions went down swinging.
“I’ve got a good team behind me so I had to relax and throw strikes,” Palmerini said. “They’re a tough team and the change in our lineup made us wake up, so we changed our game a little bit. For tomorrows’ game, we have to mentally stay focused.”
McCarthy’s bat added an insurance run with a shot to dead center field that cleared the fence and then some, to give the game it’s final 6-3 score.
“It was a straight fastball first pitch, and I was expecting that,” McCarthy said.
West Islip stranded two runners in the top of the fifth, went three up and three down in sixth and although the Lions didn’t go down quietly in the final inning, Palmerini, nearing his maximum pitch count, struck out the last two batters for a complete game where he allowed just six hits and one walk while striking out 11.
“We tweaked the lineup today … because our leadoff guy’s been struggling a bit,” Northport head coach John De Martini said. “We were down 2-0 immediately, so we put the ball in play and they made some miscues, but we got some gutty pitching. I’m just so proud of these guys.”
Northport was scheduled to travel to West Islip for the decisive game three on Wednesday.