Panthers off and running

Tom Pipolo connects with a pitch on April 19. With a 9-2 win over Mahopac, the Panthers improved to 9-0 on the year.

Tom Pipolo connects with a pitch on April 19. With a 9-2 win over Mahopac, the Panthers improved to 9-0 on the year.

By MIKE SMITH
On April 19, the Rye Neck baseball team continued its stellar play, beating Mahopac 9-2 to stay undefeated in the early goings of the 2014 campaign. With a veteran-laden team buoyed by good pitching, the Panthers seem to be poised to win their league and give a good account of themselves in the Class B playoffs this year.

Ryan Aquino picked up the win on Saturday, fanning seven batters and scattering two hits in a complete game bid to help the Panthers improve to 9-0 on the season. Aquino is part of a talented pitching staff, who has proven to be effective for Rye Neck this season as the Panthers haven’t allowed more than three runs in a ballgame all year.

Matt Franks takes a cut against Mahopac. So far, the Panthers are unbeaten and are looking to be a playoff favorite.

Matt Franks takes a cut against Mahopac. So far, the Panthers are unbeaten and are looking to be a playoff favorite.

According to head coach Tyler Slater, although the rotation seemed primed for a big year, so far, the staff—and the team—have surpassed expectations.

“We knew we had a lot of guys coming back with varsity experience this year, guys getting a little bigger and a little stronger, so we had a chance to be good,” he said. “But we didn’t necessarily expect to get off to this kind of start.”

So far, the Panthers have vanquished a number of bigger schools, including shutout wins over Harrison and Rye, but Slater said sometimes, signature wins over larger programs can be a bit misleading.

“I think a lot of times, the size of a school is blown out of proportion,” Slater said. “You’ve got good kids, good players at schools regardless of how big it is, and I think that the reputation of a program has a lot more to do with getting a good win than the size of the school so we don’t get too focused on that.”

Shortstop Chris Pennell fires to first for a double play on April 19. Photos/Bobby Begun

Shortstop Chris Pennell fires to first for a double play on April 19. Photos/Bobby Begun

One thing worth focusing on, said Slater, has been the Panthers’ ability to win close ballgames. Slater feels that his team—comprised of many of the same players who helped lead Rye Neck’s football and basketball programs to banner years—has the mental makeup to thrive in big spots.

“Playing in these close games, the kids have an idea of how to handle it psychologically,” Slater said. “The success of the other programs has been huge for us, just putting those kids in those situations and giving them that experience.”

Despite being undefeated, however; Slater still feels the Panthers have room to improve, especially in putting together good at-bats against some of the elite pitchers in the section.

“I’d like to see a little more balance in our lineup,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the top of the lineup carrying us, then the bottom. I’d like to see us get a little more consistent, especially against good pitching.”

Ryan Aquino throws a pitch against the Indians on April 19. Aquino surrendered just two hits and struck out seven in a complete game performance.

Ryan Aquino throws a pitch against the Indians on April 19. Aquino surrendered just two hits and struck out seven in a complete game performance.

The Panthers hosted a tough Byram Hills team on April 21 fighting the Bobcats to a 10-inning, 2-2 tie, and will travel to Staten Island on April 26 to take on New Dorp High School before beginning league play with a pair of games against Keio next week.

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
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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.