The Pierson/Bridgehampton Whalers can be forgiven if they spend the offseason lamenting the money they left on the table.
The locals found themselves staring at a big pot of gold and likely holding the best hand. But just as in poker, the better players sometimes go home with empty pockets.
And so it was, May 31, when the Whalers faced off against East Rockaway at St. Joseph’s College with the Long Island Class C championship on the line.
Pierson/Bridgehampton sent Tyler LaBorne out to try and secure a berth in the New York State regionals and bring the team a step closer to an elusive state championship. LaBorne has made it a habit to win big games down the stretch.
The Rockman countered with Stefano Cilluffo.
The two pitchers were a contrast in styles: LaBorne, a big lefty, mixes a deceptive change-up and an occasional breaking ball with a fastball which, while not overpowering, is nevertheless effective.
It was Cilluffo, though undersized for a pitcher, who brought the gas. He was racking up strikeouts — six in the first three innings. His team drew first blood when Chris Carey singled and eventually scored on an error in the top of the third.
By the fifth, Cillufo seemed to be running out of steam, and Pierson got to him, scoring four runs, most on a series of daring base running moves. Oliver Kirwan singled and came all the way around on a throwing error on an EJ Burke bunt. Burke then worked his way around the bases and scored on a passed ball. LaBorne hit a sac fly for another run, and a double steal allowed Nick Egbert to score the fourth run of the inning.
LaBorne, working out of the stretch throughout, labored in the sixth, walking in a batter and loading up the bases. Coach Jonathan Schwartz made a visit to the mound and, after a brief conference, gave the ball back his starter, who recorded a strikeout to end the threat.
Three outs away from the Long Island title and nursing a 4-2 lead, Schwartz brought in Cooper Schiavoni to replace a tired LaBorne. It should be noted Schiavoni, one of the team’s better players, is no stranger to the closer’s role and handles the pressure well.
But the Rocks still had cards to play. They worked Schiavoni for a couple walks, and with LaBorne playing first base just 90 feet away, Schwartz stuck with his closer. Jon Starkman plated a run with a single and then Matt Perri smashed a long double to left center — easily the hardest hit ball of the day — that brought in two runs.
Cillufo, rejuvenated, closed it out with some impressive smoke, striking out the side in the bottom of the inning.
Cilluffo allowed no earned runs, four hits, and two walks and struck out 11, including the final four batters, to earn the win. LaBorne pitched six innings, allowing one earned run, three hits, and five walks and struck out four for the Whalers (21-3).
The win gave East Rockaway its second Long Island Class C title in the past three seasons. The Whalers previously won three in a row, the last in 2014.
The sixth inning is a lucky one for the Rockmen. Two days later, East Rockaway bested Pine Plains 6- 2 in the Class C Southeast Regional final at Cantine Field in Saugerties. Perri pitched a complete game, and East Rockaway broke open a 2-2 game with four runs in the sixth. The team now heads to the NYS Final Four Class C Tournament.