By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO May 11, 2001 It was a case of almost or might have been for the homestanding Monticello Panthers baseball team during Monday afternoons 3-2 OCIAA Division III loss to the Raiders of James I. ONeill.
The Raiders (123/102 OCIAA) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the opening inning, as the hosts made several bad plays which allowed two unearned runs to cross the plate.
Add a fourth inning that saw Panthers (68/46 OCIAA) stranded at first and third with one out, and it had the makings of a pretty grim game.
But grimness turned into grit, as Monticellos hurler Terrance Hulse hunkered down on the mound for the rest of the game, and his teammates sparked a two-run rally in the sixth.
Shaun Taylor, the leadoff batter for ONeill, flew up to right field. Jon Logan singled and moved to second on a passed ball. Brian Fiorisi hit a fly ball that was misjudged by the Monti left fielder for a two-base error that scored Logan. Ben Greenspan singled to send Fiorisi across the plate. Chris York closed out the inning as he reached on an error, and Greenspan scored on a wild pitch.
After the error-filled first, Hulse settled down on the mound and held the opposition scoreless for rest of the game. Monticellos defense rallied in the end to shut down a couple of ONeill scoring opportunities with some quick-witted rundowns.
Monticello scored two runs in the sixth on a dusty field. Jose Suarez walked. Chris Longano hit into a fielders choice, which forced Suarez at second. Lead off batter Phil Stewart hit into a fielders choice, and Longano was tagged out at second. Rich Fello socked one to center field that was misplayed, and the two-base error scored Stewart. Brian Heaveys single sent Fello home to end the games scoring at 3-2 in favor of the visitors.
Fiorisi earned the win for ONeill. He struck out eight and gave up three hits.
Hulse took the loss for Monticello, throwing 90 pitches, giving up three hits and striking out nine
I thought it was a very well played game, said Raiders coach Gabe OConnell. Both teams scored their runs by capitalizing on errors
there wasnt a lot of hits.
We limited our mistakes
thats why we only gave them two runs
and we made our plays in the field when we had to, he added.
According to OConnell, both senior pitchers showed confidence on the mound, as they bore down in the tough spots.
Monticello helmsman John Spear summed up the loss. As has been our fashion, we got ourselves into the hole at the start of the game.
He added: We havent been hitting the ball very well, but our pitching and defense has been winning games for us.
Spear compared this years team to last seasons crop of ballplayers: in 2000, the Panthers had six batters hitting more than .300, while this season only one swatter has broken the .300 barrier.
Last year, Hulses batting average was about .350 with four homers and lots of RBI, but this year hes batting around .200 and really struggling at the plate.
And while Spear has six seniors filling in for nine grads, only a couple have any real experience as starters (pitchers Hulse and Fello).
Three of the other four seniors played part time last season (John Freeman, Brian Heavey and Ed Motl), while Phil Stewart was on the track team.
According to Spear, Jose Suarez and Heavey, a clutch player who has won a few games for us in our last at bat, have improved their batting averages significantly.
I knew from the beginning of the season that we werent going to score a lot of runs, he added. I told the team over and over that we were going to win low scoring games, like 3-1, 2-0 or 4-2.
After Mondays loss to ONeill, the Panthers must win four of their eight remaining regular season games in order to clinch a berth in sectional competition.
Every game has been a battle, said Spear. Weve had very few games where we had a comfortable lead, so we have to hunker down and fight our way out of it. And stay positive.
Addenda: On Tuesday, the Panthers lost to ONeill 4-1 in Highland Falls to drop to 69 overall and 47 in the league.