Rye Neck Baseball
By Mitch Silver
It was post-season baseball played in pre-season weather. Less than 24 hours after a pair of 90°-plus days brought summer to Westchester, the thermometer registered half that at game time Saturday morning between 11th-seeded Rye Neck and their 6th-seeded rivals, Blind Brook.
The 8-11 Panthers were clear underdogs as two-dozen of their bundled-up fans huddled in the stands behind home plate. Not only were they playing on the other guy’s field, the 11-9 Trojans in the home dugout were brimming with confidence after traveling to Hornidge Road nine days earlier and defeating Coach Joe Carlucci’s squad by 4-1.
But these were the playoffs, and Rye Neck had an extra ace up their sleeves. Not only was their ace on the mound, Conor Liguori, hurling a 13-strikeout gem, but new Section One playoff rules extend a starter’s pitch count to 125 throws. So Liguori was able to keep bringing the only heat to be found in the area for 9 1/3 innings of an extra-inning game.
How did they get there? Corey Parker led off the game with a walk, took second on a groundout, and scored on a Jack Sheldon single up the middle. In the 3rd, another walk, a balk, and Sheldon legging out a single for a second RBI made it 2-0.
Blind Brook tied things up in the bottom of the fourth. Three base hits and a balk called on Liguori did the damage. It would have been more, but Christian Cefaloni made a stellar throw to third to cut down an advancing runner.
The score stayed 2-2 into extra innings, thanks in part to a tough catch of a windblown pop fly along the fence by first baseman Anthony Miceli. Sheldon got his third hit of the game to lead off the 8th on a grounder to deep short. He moved up on a perfectly executed hit-and-run (or more accurately, run-and-hit) single by Kevin Tamucci through the vacated second-baseman’s spot. But the rally died there.
The scoring drought extended through the ninth as both starters were throwing BBs (figures, since they were playing at Blind Brook). But even a 125-pitch limit has its limits. Corey Parker struck out on that 125th pitch to lead off the 10th, and Colin Kelley greeted his replacement with a solid single to center that became a triple when the center fielder slipped playing the ball. A walk to Sheldon placed runners at first and third. But instead of walking Tamucci to load the bases and create a force at the plate, the Trojans elected to pitch to him. A mile-high sacrifice fly brought home Kelley in a cloud of dust at the plate for the go-ahead run. A refrain of “Slide, Kelley, Slide”, anyone?
In the bottom of the 10th, it looked like turnabout would be fair play as Liguori’s own pitch limit saw him hand the ball to senior Christian Cefaloni after yielding a broken-bat liner past third on a one-out toss. Cefaloni walked the first batter he faced, but then calmly K’d the next two Trojans for the save.
After the game, Liguori acknowledged that, “We’ve been up-and down all season. So this win is really great for us.” The jubilant coach echoed his thoughts. “We played an error-free game. Their pitcher was good, but ours was just a little better.”
NEW: Rye Neck moved on to play three-seed Putnam Valley in the quarterfinals this past Tuesday. Sadly, the 15-6 Tigers ended the Panthers’ season in convincing fashion, with John Rainieri throwing a 10-strikeout five-hitter in the 9-0 victory.
Corey Parker blasts off after scoring the first run of the game.
A stunned Christian Cefaloni realizes his strikeout just won the game.