After a marvelous run through the best teams in the league, the section, and then the region, Rye Neck’s senior-laden squad took the SUNY Binghamton field the evening of June 14, seeking to avenge their New York State title game loss a year earlier. T
By Mitch Silver
After a marvelous run through the best teams in the league, the section, and then the region, Rye Neck’s senior-laden squad took the SUNY Binghamton field the evening of June 14, seeking to avenge their New York State title game loss a year earlier. They came up two runs short, losing to the only other 25-game winner in New York’s Class B, Schalmont High from Schenectady.
Coach Tyler Slater’s Panthers made it to Binghamton on the strength of pitching, defense, and timely hitting. After defeating North Salem 2-0 in the Section 1 finals, they topped Section 9’s Spackenkill, winners of 16 straight, by the same score in the Regional semifinals played at Saugerties. Despite strained tendons in his left foot, Ryan Aquino shut down the Spartans on just three hits, collecting seven strikeouts along the way.
At the plate, Matt Franks opened the 2nd with a walk before Angelo Spedafino singled and Aquino was hit by a pitch to load the bases. With one out, Sam Piliero’s grounder scored both Franks and Spedafino thanks to a throwing error by the shortstop.
Twenty-four hours later the Black Cats took the field at Mamaroneck High against Long Island winners Mattituck from Suffolk’s Section 11. In what was for all intents and purposes a home game, Spedafino toed the rubber. He loaded the bases in the first, but escaped damage. In the home half, Chris Pennell then singled sharply to center and Thomas Pipolo hit a towering fly. Without a warning track to guide him, Mattituck’s leftfielder crashed into the fence just as he tried to close his glove on the ball, allowing Pennell to score.
After a scoreless top of the 2nd, Aquino hit what was probably the longest home run of the year. The ball sailed over the running track that separates the diamond from the school and crashed into the building’s bricks next to the scoreboard twenty feet above the ground. Then, with two out, Chris Cascione was hit by a pitch and Pennell drew a walk. A Pipolo shot to third drew an error, scoring Cascione.
That was all the cushion Spedafino would need, as he worked six scoreless innings in the heat. He weakened, though, in the 7th, allowing a sharply hit single to left before uncorking a wild pitch. A grounder to Cascione moved the runner to third before a base on balls saw Coach Slater summon Pennell to the mound. The second sacker-turned-closer did his Mariano Rivera imitation, giving Rye Neck the Regional crown. The cherry on the sundae was the news that Pennell’s older brother Ryan had just been taken in the Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.
One week later, the Panthers got a rousing sendoff in the rain, with a good part of the student body leaning out of every available window at the school to wish them well. If all went well, they would meet Livonia from west of the Finger Lakes in the State semifinals Saturday morning and then play for the championship that afternoon.
It rained hard in Binghamton and the semis were pushed back two hours. But when Aquino finally took the ball, the sun came out for Rye Neck. He issued a walk in the first, but Pipolo gunned down the runner at second base for the third out.
In the home second with a man on, Aquino hit a long fly to right that dropped in, but his sore foot limited him to a single. Piliereo was walked to load the bases. Tyler Spinelli was walked as well, forcing in a run. Pitcher Zack Kolodziejski escaped further damage when Cascione slammed into a 4-6-3 double play.
A couple of strikeouts in the visitors’ 3rd upped Aquino’s tally to five. Two more Ks in the top of the 4th and another brace in the 5th kept the Panthers up 1-0. At that point it looked like another low-scoring nail-biter. But first-sacker Matt Franks changed all that. With Cascione on second and Pipolo on first, he lashed a ringing two-run double to up the score to 3-0.
A Livonia pitching change didn’t help. Singles by Spedafino and Aquino sandwiched around an error by the centerfielder made it 6-0. Pennell eventually walked with bases loaded (Livinia pitching gave up six bases on balls in the inning!) before a Pipolo RBI single made the final score 8-0. Aquino would garner the win on a one-hitter, taking his team into the title contest.
The Schalmont game was a different story. Spedafino was pulled in the second frame with the Sabres up 2-0 on two singles, an error, a passed ball, a walk, and a hit batter. Matt Franks came in to get the final two outs with the bases loaded.
But opposing pitcher Greg Musk was firing on all cylinders. Despite pitching three innings in the semis, he would go all the way in the final, throwing 106 pitches for the complete-game victory. The closest the Panthers would come to driving him from the mound was a two-out, two-on smash in the 5th by Pipolo right at the shortstop.
Yes, Rye Neck did get on the board when Franks singled and stole second in the top of the 6th. He was driven home by Spedafino (no longer pitching but still in the game), but Aquino and Piliero went down to end the rally.
Musk helped his own cause with an RBI single in his own 6th to stretch the lead back to two. Then, with last licks and one out, Cascione drove a double into the right-centerfield gap. Pipolo was hit by a pitch with two out. Would Franks, 2 for 3 at that point in the game, win the whole thing with both his bat and his arm?
Sadly, it was not to be, leaving Rye Neck with a season record of 25-2. Chris Cascione’s dad Mike said of the team’s seniors, “It will be a while before a school this small has so many good ballplayers at the same time.” Amen.