By Bill Landon
With both teams tied at four runs apiece, it wasn’t until the bottom of the ninth inning when Ward Melville’s Logan Doran smacked an infield grounder that sent teammate Dominic Lamonica racing and diving for home plate just ahead of the tag, to win the opening round of the Class AA playoffs, 5-4, against Half Hollow Hills West Monday afternoon.
“This is a great bunch of kids they play hard all the time and that’s a great baseball team over there — Hills West, they’re well-coached by a Hall of Fame coach, but our kids did a great job,” said Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci. “We battled back and we didn’t panic when we were down 3-1, and the kids got some clutch hits.”
Ward Melville’s Lamonica also struck first for his team, when he hit the ball to right field, driving in Brandon Lee for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
After starting pitcher Ben Brown let up just one hit in the first three innings, Hills West made him pay in the top of the fourth.
With a runner on first, Hills West drove the ball deep to center field that bounced over the fence, triggering a ground-rule double that put both runners in scoring position. A single to right field plated both runners, to give the Colts a 2-1 lead, but Lee followed with a pick-off at second for the second out to stop the bleeding. It didn’t last for long though, as the Colts smacked a shot to deep right field for a sliding triple, and the next batter drove the runner home.
“We’ve had games like this one all year long — fighting right to the end — so when we come into big moments like this we’re more prepared than other teams,” Lamonica said. “[Hills West is] a great team. Their pitching was phenomenal — they have one of the best pitchers in Suffolk County. We were able to barrel a few balls off of him, get a few runs and they were able to do the same against Ben [Brown].”
The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the fourth, and Troy Davern started it off when he ripped an infield heater, and after a defensive bobble, beat the throw to first. Tom Hudzik stepped into the batters’ box next and drilled a long ball to right center field that bounced over the fence for the second ground-rule double of the game — moving Davern over to third. Nick Rizzi’s bat spoke next, and he hit an infield grounder that seemed to be a sure out, but Hills West made a throwing error to first, which plated Davern and Hudzik to tie the game 3-3. Rizzi stole second base, but was left stranded when the Colts retired the side.
With a runner on first, Hills West hit a stand-up double that put the runners in scoring position. The Colts finished the job with a rip to shallow left field that knocked in the opponent on third, to give the team a 4-3 edge in the top of the fifth.
The Patriots missed the opportunity to take the lead, and went down swinging with two runners on base. But Ward Melville was able to plate one more in the bottom of the sixth inning to make it a new game, and Tom Hudzik’s twin brother Matt took over the mound looking for the win.
“I’ve been in this situation multiple times this season, and every time I go [out there] I just have to throw strikes,” Matt Hudzik said. “I’ve got seven guys behind me that I know will make plays for me.”
Ward Melville missed another opportunity when the Patriots drew a walk to load the bases in the top of the eighth, and went down swinging.
After Matt Hudzik pitched three scoreless innings, the game came down to the bottom of the ninth.
“Matt Hudzik has been stalwart — he’s got five wins [now] out of the bullpen,” Petrucci said. “It was a great [showing by] Matt Hudzik and Ben Brown, who kept us in the game.”
Lamonica led off the inning with a routine pop-up that nobody called for, and the wind blew the ball as it dropped down for a charity single. Davern followed by drawing a walk, and after a strikeout, both runners advanced on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third now, Doran stepped into the batters’ box with two outs.
“I was in the same situation in the last game I played, and I didn’t get it done,” Doran said. “But I knew I’d get it done today in a big game.”
Lamonica, with a healthy lead, waited as Doran battled in the box, fouling several pitches before the count was full. Then, Doran drilled a ground ball up the middle to the shortstop, who fielded it cleanly and threw to home plate. But Lamonica had the lead, and beat the throw home for the game-winning run as the players rush to the diamond to pile up in celebration.
“You really don’t know the magnitude of the situation you’re in until you’re out of it,” Matt Hudzik said. “And it’s a great feeling once you’re out of it.”
No. 6 Ward Melville advances to take on No. 3 Smithtown East on the road May 17, at 4:15 p.m.