By MIKE SMITH
With just one out to go in the Class B Championship game on May 31, Rye Neck catcher Tom Pipolo called time and trotted out to the mound to speak with Panther hurler Ryan Aquino. But this late-game mound meeting wasn’t about how to pitch to the final North Salem hitter of the game. According to Pipolo, it was more about choreographing the postgame dog pile.
“I told him keep it low,” Pipolo said. “And we’re going Yogi Berra, Don Larsen.”
As it turned out, Pipolo and Aquino weren’t able to recreate the iconic celebration of Larsen’s perfect game, but it hardly mattered to the Panthers as a game-ending grounder to shortstop Chris Cascione sparked a wild scene at Provident Bank Park with the Panthers reveling in their 2-0 Class B finals win.
“It didn’t go the way we hoped, with a strikeout,” Aquino said. “But I think it was a pretty good dog pile anyway.”
Rye Neck (21-1-1) needed just two runs to win the title as Aquino’s superb four-hit shutout earned him MVP honors on the day.
“He threw his fastball for strikes and wasn’t overthrowing today,” Pipolo said. “I just preached to him to keep the ball down and we’d get these kids out.”
Rye Neck made the most of its opportunities in the fourth inning, plating runs on a ground ball from Tyler Spinelli and a Chris Cascione single to cap off a season-long run of dominance. With rain wreaking havoc on the Class B playoff schedule, the Panthers played four games in five days to win the title, allowing just two runs in that span.
“I knew we had pitching depth,” head coach Tyler Slater said. “But coming into the week, we knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Aquino tossed two shutout games, while Matt Franks and Angelo Spedafino also picked up playoff wins for the Panthers.
“Our pitching couldn’t have been any better in these last four games,” Aquino said after Saturday’s contest. “I knew we had the best pitching staff in the section and all our pitchers have kept us in these ball games.”
For a senior-heavy Panther team, this season–and the school year in general–has been a succesful one.
In the fall, the Panther football team came within one yard of bringing home a state title and the basketball team made a run to the section finals at the County Center as well. Saturday’s win in Pomona was simply the icing on the cake.
“It’s been everything that we’ve imagined since we were five years old,” Aquino said. “We grew up playing on the same kickball team, tee-ball, majors and then on the big field.”
Rye Neck will play its first state tourney game on June 6 in Saugerties. In order to keep sharp during their week off, they will scrimmage against nearby Rye High School which is coming off its own sectional win.
“This is a lot of relief right now because we put so much pressure on ourselves,” Pipolo said. “We really want to bring home a state title, and we have even more motivation because we fell short in the fall.”