Massapequa, NY – Pitching and defense wins championships. Last night at Burns Park, with their backs to the wall, the North Bellmore North Merrick LL Rebels delivered pitching, defense and a whole lot of guts en route to a 1-0 victory that earned them the opportunity to play one game for a District championship Wednesday night. The performances by both the Rebels and their opponent, Massapequa Coast LL, were nothing less than outstanding in their unwillingness to relent. A 0-0 deadlock carried through six innings until the Rebels finally broke through to score the winning run in the seventh.
Starting pitchers Nick Valeriano for NBNM and Anthony Buckshaw for Coast were at the top of their games giving their respective teams all they could ask for and batters little to work with.
The visiting Rebels were sat down in order when Buckshaw struck out the side in the top of the first. In Coast’s half, Valeriano got their lead-off man to pop up to the infield. Two-hitter John Vento slapped a tough pitch toward the opposite field that rolled over the first base bag for a stand-up double. The first sign of what was to come ensued when MCLL’s Chris Wasson flew out to Brian Porricelli in center. Vento attempted to tag up and Porricelli threw a seed to Matt Conry at third base to nail Vento for an inning-ending double-play.
In the second, the Rebels managed three balls in play and a hit batsman in Valeriano, but Coast second baseman Andrew Russel made one of several outstanding plays he would deliver on the night and the Rebels went down quietly. Coast managed a two-out single by Dan Gdanski in the the bottom half before Aidan Cooney grounded to Kevin McCleneghan at first base.
NBNM threatened in the third frame when Matt Coster led off with a well-struck double to left field. But Buckshaw would bear down inducing a ground ball to second and a couple of strikeouts to get out of it. In the bottom, MCLL worked a one-out single by Tom Ammendola. Valeriano then coaxed a slow roller to first for the second out moving Ammendola to scoring position. Next, Vento hit a ball hard up the middle but Valeriano managed to get a piece of it and shortstop Jack Delaney remarkably gathered the deflection and fired to McCleneghan in time at first to end the inning, stranding Ammendola.
The Rebels were sat down in order in the fourth and Coast looked to capitalize on the momentum. Wasson led off with a drive to center that hit off the high Burns Park fence. For the second time of the night, Coast decided to challenge the arm of Porricelli in center when Wasson tried for a double and for the second time of the night it was a bad idea as Porky threw a strike to Delaney covering second for the first out. Coast was not deterred, though. When Buckshaw and Matt Finn singled, Gdanski drew a walk to load the bases. On this night where runs would be scarce, the Rebels defense played their infield in. With Valeriano bearing down on the mound for NBNM, Cooney knocked a two-hopper to McCleneghan who fired to Coster at home to cut down Buckshaw for out number two. With the bags still juiced, Valeriano reached down, struck out Terrence Murray swinging and, with a fist-pump, led the Rebels off the field into the fifth inning, momentum stolen, zero-zero tie preserved.
The Rebels looked like they might have something going on in the fifth when Valeriano drew a lead-off walk. Then Buckshaw got a big strikeout. Coster came up with one on and one out and hit a ball up the middle that had base hit written all over it until yet another terrific play by Russel turned it into a fielders choice at second base for the second out. The Rebels inning stayed alive when Matt Nilsen was hit by a pitch but they could not deliver a key hit as Buckshaw worked out of it with another K to end the inning. In the bottom, a lead-off single by Rettig gave Coast hope but a fielder’s choice and a couple of big strikeouts care of Valeriano turned the tide yet again.
After Billy McAdam drew a base on balls to start the sixth, Coast lifted Buckshaw from the hill for Vento. Although he yielded a second walk, a strikeout and two ground outs got Coast out of the inning unscathed and their offense to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning of this 0-0 tie. Buckshaw hit a ball into the hole between first and second but the Rebels’ Alec Acri made a fine play going into the outfield turf and cutting down the runner at first. Gdanski then smacked one into the hole between short and third and it was Delaney going to his backhand and firing a strike across the diamond for the second out. Cooney then grounded back to Acri who played it smoothly to force extra innings.
McCleneghan led off the seventh inning for NBNM with a fly ball that dropped between defenders into shallow center causing the center fielder and second baseman to collide as K-Mac hustled it all the way for a lead-off double (the players were stunned but no one was injured). Coster then executed a clean sacrafice bunt to move McCleneghan to second with one out. Matt Nilsen came up against a drawn in infield and slapped the first pitch he saw past a diving Wasson at short and into left field for what would prove to be the game-winning hit, as McCleneghan scored standing up, and the Rebels had broken the ice to take a 1-0 lead. Vento limited the damage with a strikeout and groundout to bring Coast up in the bottom of the seventh chasing a one-run deficit. NBNM called Porricelli to the mound to close it. He struck out Cooney on three pitches then walked Billy Delmore on four. After getting ahead 0-2 on Ammendola, he induced a ground ball to second that was too slowly hit to complete a double play but was nicely turned by Acri and Delaney nonetheless getting the fielder’s choice and the second out. Porky then fanned Russell swinging and the Rebels had evened the series with Coast and given themselves a chance to play one more game for the District title.
The Rebels return to Burns Park Wednesday July 11 at 8:00 pm for a final game with Massapequa Coast when a District champion will be crowned.