By Bill Landon
A two-run eighth inning helped Nassau County tie the game and earn the would-be go-ahead run over Suffolk in a 5-4 Blue Chip Prospect Grand Slam Challenge win June 8 at St. Joseph’s College.
With the game tied 3-3, Garden City’s Mike Handal’s RBI gave Nassau the lead, and a Suffolk error brought in the eventual game-winning run in the 14th annual game sponsored by Rawlings, proceeds from which benefit Cohen Children’s Northwell Health Physician Partners Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics center in New Hyde Park.
St. John the Baptist catcher Logan O’Hoppe hit the ball deep to right, which scored Rocky Point pitcher and outfielder Joe Grillo from second, but Locust Valley’s Thomas Eletto forced a groundout with two runners on to earn the save.
“It was a lot of fun playing tonight with all these kids,” said Ward Melville second baseman Logan Doran, who committed to Division I George Washington University. “I’m excited about competitive baseball. I’m ready to go.”
Doran proved that when he cleanly fielded a ball rocketed in the dirt, and passed it to short stop Kyle Johnson who turned a double play with bases loaded to retire the side and keep Suffolk up 1-0 in the second.
Johnson, who will continue his baseball career with Stony Brook University, said he’s been in awe of all the effort and commitment that goes into putting together the event for senior elites.
“This game’s awesome — Blue Chip; Jim Clark, who put this together years ago — it shows how [talented] Long Island is,” the soon-to-be Newfield grad said. “You’ve seen the guys this year that got drafted and a lot of those guys played in this game, so it’s an honor to be out here.”
Suffolk made it a two-run lead in the top of the third when West Islip outfielder Jake Guercio crossed home plate for the second time. And Suffolk’s hitting didn’t stop there.
Johnson stole second just ahead of a tag with Brentwood’s Justin Aviles in the batter’s box, but Aviles’ grounder toward third was thrown home in time to get Doran for the second out. Grillo smacked the ball deep to right next to load the bases, but Suffolk couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.
Plainview JFK’s Ryan Saltzman hit a sacrifice fly to put Nassau on the board in the bottom of the inning, and Plainedge’s Jason Bottari did the same to make it a new game.
With no outs in the fourth, Newfield pitcher Bobby Vath hit into a double play, but Sayville’s Jake Russo raced home from third in time to help Suffolk retake the lead. The team looked to build on its lead in the top of the fifth when Mount Sinai third baseman George Rainer took four consecutive pitches at the plate to draw a walk, but two straight strikeouts ended the inning.
“It’s a great feeling to be playing with the best players on Long Island — I really enjoyed it,” said Rainer, who signed a letter of intent to play at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “It was a great day to end my varsity baseball career. I had a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see what college has in store.”
Harborfields pitcher Gavin Buda, the only athlete chosen to play in both Blue Chip Prospects games — the Grand Slam Challenge and Empire Challenge football game — took over on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and retired the side in order.
“It’s a huge honor to be chosen [for both],” said the Hobart and William Smith Colleges-bound wide receiver. “When you look at a school like Harborfields we’re always underrated and under-the-radar, so to be nominated to play in these games and represent this school is amazing.”