By MIKE SMITH
On May 31, the Rye Garnets won their first section title in 30 years with a thrilling 6-5 win over Lakeland at Provident Bank Park.
For the Garnets, who won just six games in 2013, the victory was not only a measure of how talented the ball club is, but also how hard they fought to reestablish themselves as the premier squad in Class A.
Sophomore George Kirby was stellar in the win, earning MVP honors with a seven-inning, 12-strikeout performance. Although the hurler came into the year without a varsity win on his record, he quickly established himself as a dependable big-game performer.
“I learned last year that I didn’t have to worry about him,” head coach Mike Bruno said. “Sometimes you just have to trust your players, and Kirby wants the ball; he’s a competitor.”
Bruno’s decision to stay with Kirby–even after the youngster’s pitch count rose and Rye saw a 6-2 lead nearly evaporate–paid off in spades as he was able to settle down in the seventh inning, fanning three straight batters to end the game.
“He threw a lot of fastballs out there, and I understand about high pitch counts,” Bruno said. “But he was throwing a lot of fastballs and only mixing in curves once in a while.”
Brendan Tripodi led the Garnets at the plate, going 3-for-3 on the day and scoring twice. Rye fell in an early hole, but scored three runs in the fourth inning and three more in the fifth to build up a lead that would survive the late Lakeland onslaught.
Bruno said he was impressed by his team’s ability to bounce back from its sub-.500 record in 2013. With Kirby and Jake Meyerson solidifying the rotation, the Garnets came out swinging this season, eager to prove they were better than last year indicated.
“I can’t say enough about these guys, they went from 6 wins to 20 and a sectional title,” Bruno said. “It’s not about one individual person, it’s about everyone’s effort out there. I’m so proud of this team and the resiliency that they’ve shown.”
The Garnets will take on Section IX champ Wallkill on June 6 in the state regionals. Wallkill is led by ace Joe Pilliterri, who finished with an 8-1 mark and a 0.87 ERA this season. Pillaterri has racked up 87 strikeouts this year in just 62.1 innings of work.
“They’ve got a very good starting pitcher, he’s the quarterback on the football team, and he’s a great athlete,” Bruno said. “But we’ve got good starting pitching too. It’s going to be a great game.”
To prepare for the state regional game, Rye has scheduled a June 3 scrimmage with fellow section titlist Rye Neck.
“We’re going to get loose today, then head over to Rye Neck on Tuesday,” Bruno said on June 2. “Then we’re going to have some tough practices on Wednesday and Thursday to get ourselves ready.”