Panthers head to semis

Tom Pipolo connects with a pitch on June 6. The following day, against Mattituck, Pipolo drove in one of Rye Neck’s three runs with a double off the fence at Mamaroneck High School. Photos/Mike Smith

Tom Pipolo connects with a pitch on June 6. The following day, against Mattituck, Pipolo drove in one of Rye Neck’s three runs with a double off the fence at Mamaroneck High School. Photos/Mike Smith

By MIKE SMITH

Rye Neck’s Ryan Aquino throws a pitch against Spackenkill on June 6. Aquino battled through strained tendons in his foot to throw a three-hit gem in the state regional semifinals.

Rye Neck’s Ryan Aquino throws a pitch against Spackenkill on June 6. Aquino battled through strained tendons in his foot to throw a three-hit gem in the state regional semifinals.

If Rye Neck fans thought they were watching a team of destiny this year, the Panthers’ play over the last weekend reinforced the idea something special is happening this year.

With two wins—over Section IV’s Spackenkill and Long Island champ Mattituck—the Panthers have punched their ticket to the state semis in Binghamton this weekend.

Against Spackenkill on June 6, the Panthers were buoyed by yet another stellar pitching performance by ace Ryan Aquino, who tossed a complete game shutout despite being hobbled by strained tendons in his foot. The senior—who was noticeably hobbling after tweaking himself running the bases—allowed just three hits on the afternoon.

Although head coach Tyler Slater said the Panthers had a contingency plan in case Aquino was forced to come out, the senior right hander said he never considered taking himself out of the game.

“It’s something I’ve been dealing with,” Aquino said after the 2-0 win. “And it felt a little funny when I came back out and tried to pitch, but I was able to get through it.”

Senior catcher Tom Pipolo said he knew his pitcher had the toughness to get past his nagging ankle.

“If anything, I think it helped to focus him,” Pipolo said. “He was locating his fastball and he showed so much heart out there.”

Aquino was limited the following day when he DHed against Mattituck at Mamaroneck High School, but managed to provide a spark, hitting a long home run that—along with Pipolo’s RBI double in the second inning—was enough to power a 3-0 win and a trip to the semis.

Angelo Spedafino turned in another solid pitching performance and Chris Pennell held on for the save.

The Panther pitching staff has been unbelievable as of late, and has not allowed a run in 24 innings heading into this weekend’s Class B state semifinals. Offensively, the team has been able to scratch out runs when needed, though they haven’t swung the bats as well as Slater would have liked.

“We’re not completely clicking right now,” Slater said after Friday’s win. “We’re not as consistent as I would hope at this point.”

The Panthers will play their semifinal game on June 14 at Binghamton University against Livonia.

While the team has been happy with its success so far, Pipolo was quick to point out it’s not the time to rest on laurels; not yet anyway.

“This is great, but we still have work to do,” he said. “Our goal is to win states, and maybe we can do that.”

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.