By Bill Landon
Miller Place struggled to keep pace with Comsewogue’s baseball team, as the Warrior bats did the talking in their Class A opening-round playoffs Tuesday afternoon. The Panthers tied the game, 1-1, early on, but 13-5 Comsewogue showed why it’s the League VI champion, as the team wore down Miller Place’s defense and put its opponent away 8-2.
“They’re a tough team, but we came out and played great,” Comsewogue catcher Justin Virga said. “We hit the ball well, played great defense behind our pitcher and we pulled out a win. Today was a hard-fought game.”
Comsewogue wasted no time. Jake Sardinia drew a walk that moved teammate John Braun over to second base, as Jordan Lisco stepped into the batters’ box. Lisco drilled a ground ball through the gap that brought Braun home for the early lead.
“Today we hit the ball, played defense and that’s all you can do,” Lisco said. “We hit the ball with runners on base, which is something we’ve struggled with.”
The Panthers answered back in the top of the second when Cole Francis, on a passed ball at the plate, advanced to third base. Teammate Kevin Kelleher layed down a perfect bunt that plated Francis to tie the game.
Comsewogue bats cracked in the bottom of the inning, and Bryan Hurley drove the ball through the gap, sending David Heller, the go-ahead run, to second. With Joseph Ciancarelli at the plate, a passed ball moved both base runners into scoring position. Ciancarelli chopped an infield dribbler and Heller came sliding home, eluding the tag, for the 2-1 advantage. With Hurley on third, Ciancarelli stole second and Braun smacked the ball deep through the infield, bringing Hurley home for a 3-1 lead with one out in the bottom of the third. Then, Ciancarelli found his way home on a sacrifice fly for a three-run lead.
“They came fired up on their home field, so they weren’t just going to give it to us,” Miller Place head coach Rick Caputo said. “Honestly, I’m disappointed in the way my guys played. I think we missed a lot of opportunities, I think we played our worst game of the year and we saved it for the first round of the playoffs.”
Miller Place threatened in the top of the third inning when Matt Paghidas and Tyler Schrimpf advanced to second and third, respectively, on another passed ball. Schrimpf crossed home plate to make it a two-run game, but that was all the team could muster.
The Panthers pressured again in the top of the fifth with base runners at the corners, but the runner on first stretched his lead a little too far, and Comsewogue picked him off on an infield pop-up that was caught, to retire the side.
With runners on first and third, the Warriors looked to put the game away in the bottom of the sixth inning when Ciancarelli chopped an infield heater to bring Hurley home for a 5-2 lead.
Miller Place made a pitching change as Christian McPartland relieved Thomas Bell on the mound the rest of the way.
“My control wasn’t there all game — my curveball started working later in the game, but they’re a great hitting team and they were putting the ball in play and making things happen,” Bell said.
It was a busy sixth inning for the Warriors, and they weren’t finished yet. Mike Stiles proved he was as deadly at the plate as he was from the mound, and ripped a fastball deep into the outfield, bringing Ciancarelli and Sardinia home with a stand-up double to break the game open, 7-2.
“I knew they were a good hitting team, so I had to get ahead, mix up my pitches and it worked out in the end,” Stiles said. “We hit the ball pretty well, we played pretty good defense — it was a little sloppy in the beginning, but I knew the team had my back.”
Lisco brought Stiles home with a deep sacrifice fly for a six-run lead.
With gas left in the tank, Stiles made short work of the Panthers in the final inning, retiring the side in order for the victory.
“We swung the bats well today, so I was pleased with how we hit the ball and as the game went on, we protected our lead,” Comsewogue head coach Mike Bonura said. “I wasn’t happy with our defense — we booted the ball around early in the game, which is uncharacteristic for us, because we’ve been throwing the ball and fielding the ball well all year. Mike [Stiles] did a great job for us. We play again tomorrow, so we have to go right at them, same recipe — come out and play solid baseball and don’t make it too difficult.”
No. 2 Comsewogue expected another strong pitching performance when Braun took the mound against No. 6 Mount Sinai Wednesday, but results were not available at press time.