There has never been a more experienced baseball team playing in the Section 1 title game.
By Mitch Silver
There has never been a more experienced baseball team playing in the Section 1 title game. With seniors up and down the lineup, Rye Neck brought a cool, calm, veteran squad to Provident Bank Park in Rockland County May 31, for the Section 1 Class B title game against top-ranked North Salem. And that experience paid off as the Panthers pitched, hit and fielded like the 2014 champs they now are.
After rain had postponed the start of the playoffs for four days, the second-ranked Panthers knew they’d have to win four games in five days. First up was a tough Dobbs ferry team. Ryan Aquino held the fort on the mound until Matt Franks could drive in catcher Thomas Pipolo with the winner in a close play at the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Later, a happy Pipolo admitted, “I never scored a winner with my legs before!”
A 9-0 pasting of Croton-Harmon 24 hours later was followed by the semifinal against Keio Academy, a team the Black Cats beat in a pair of 2-1 regular-season squeakers. In another pitching duel, Angelo Spedafino’s two-hitter — coupled with a double to the fence in the home sixth by Aquino and a big two-out RBI single from Marist-bound Sam Piliero — was all Rye Neck would need to get past the Unicorns and into the final.
That final game paired the 3rd- and 4th-ranked teams in the State with a combined 43 wins between them and just two losses. Coach Tyler Slater sent Aquino out against Tom Bond, North Salem’s dominant pitcher and Con Ed Athlete of the Week going into the game. Sure enough, it was 0-0 in the top of the fourth when the Panthers finally struck, loading the bases to set up a fielder’s choice RBI from Tyler Spinelli and then a run-scoring single from shortstop Chris Cascione.
From then on it was a matter of game management by Aquino, the game’s MVP. He allowed base runners in the final four frames. None of them scored, thanks in no small part to a great play at first by Franks in the bottom of the seventh.
Coach Slater said, “These kids lost as juniors in the big game last year. They know what it takes to win.”
That knowledge will next be put to the test at 1 p.m. Friday in the regional semifinals against the Section 9 champion at Cantine Field in Saugerties.