Baseball is said to be the most unforgiving of all sports. Just when everything seems to be breaking right, a team’s good fortune can turn around on a dime. A hitting slump, some bad bounces, a few bloop hits, the injury bug, and an opponent’s suddenly hot pitching staff can knock a good team for a loop.
East Rockaway entered its best-of-three county championship series with Cold Spring Harbor as one of the hottest teams on Long Island. The Rocks were riding an 11-game winning streak, had won 17 of their last 18, and seemed destined to make the trip to the Long Island championship game for a fourth consecutive season.
But, No. 2 Cold Spring Harbor had other ideas. The Seahawks scored four times in the bottom of the second inning and held on for a 4-3 win in Game 2 of the series to sweep the top-seeded Rocks at SUNY Old Westbury. Cold Spring Harbor (19-5), which moves on the Long Island championship game against the winner of the series between Center Moriches and Mattituck, won the first game 8-6.
“It’s disappointing, but it wasn’t for lack of effort,” Rocks coach James Hickey said. “We hadn’t given up runs in bunches all season long, but our defense wasn’t as clean as it had been and we walked a few more batters than we usually do. We had our chances. It’s not the way we wanted the season to end.”
The Rocks had runners in scoring position in each of the last four innings of game two, but couldn’t get the key hit to tie the game. Senior Stefano Cilluffo, who earned All County honors and was named Conference B Player of the Year, hit nearly .600 in the postseason. The Rocks were conference champs for the first time in 48 years, and finished with a program-best 18-5 record.
East Rockaway advanced to the county finals after sweeping Carle Place. Junior Aidan O’Connor struck out a career-high 16 batters and allowed one earned run to lead the Rocks to a 9-2 win in the opener. O’Connor, who along with junior Chris Perri was an All County selection, went 2-for-3 with two RBI.
Cilluffo pitched a gem in the clincher. He struck out 11 and yielded just one unearned to lead the Rocks to a 2-1 win. Joe Acampora, an All-League honoree, knocked home Cilluffo with the go-ahead run in the third inning. Senior Dan Del Valle also earned All-League recognition.
Seniors Dylan Henshaw and Brian Morganthaler, and junior catcher Matt Perri were named All-Conference recipients. Perri, a three-year starter, missed the playoffs with a hand injury, but Hickey was pleased with the effort he received behind the plate from sophomore Mike Mistretta.
“We lose a tremendous amount of character and talent,” Hickey said. “Our four seniors batted one through four in the lineup. I hope the juniors and underclassmen understand how hard they’re going to have to work to be successful. Right now, there’s a buzz around East Rockaway baseball.”