By MIKE SMITH
With a pair of victories this past weekend, the Rye baseball team finds itself just two wins away from a miraculous turnaround, from a six-win team in 2013, to Class A state champions this spring.
On June 6 and 7, the Garnets beat Section IX champs Wallkill and Maine-Endwell from Long Island, earning the chance to play in the Class A state semifinals on June 14 in Binghamton.
In both games, Rye got great starting pitching from the duo that has been winning games all year long. On Friday against Wallkill, lefty Luke Meyerson put the Warriors’ bats to sleep, tossing a three-hit complete game gem in a 6-1 win.
The following day, at John Jay High School, sophomore George Kirby authored a shutout as Rye topped Maine-Endwell 12-0.
Against Wallkill, Rye struggled for much of the game to find its stroke against ace Joe Pilliterri, but broke through with a good third inning, scoring five runs thanks to five hits and two Wallkill errors. The scoring started when Garnet leadoff man Tim DeGraw belted a two-run double, his 100th career hit as a Garnet.
“To do it in that spot, with two guys on, that was special,” DeGraw said after the game. “But to me, stats aren’t important; winning is.”
Meyerson said the Garnets’ third-inning outburst was instrumental in helping him settle into the game.
“It helps you to pitch with more confidence,” the southpaw said. “Pitching with a lead, knowing you can give up a run and it’s not that big a deal, I think it boosts my confidence, but also everyone behind me.”
The following day against the Spartans, George Kirby had that same sort of confidence, blanking Maine-Endwell while Rye’s batters plated 12 runs. Rye scored the bulk of its runs in the sixth inning, putting up 10 to put the game out of reach.
Sophomore Mat Bruno tallied his first varsity dinger in the game, smacking a grand slam in a pinch-hit appearance.
“What I always worry about is pitching and defense, but we’ve had that for us,” said coach Mike Bruno. “But it was nice the way the kids swung the bat, I think they will be a little more confident.”
Rye’s victory over Maine-Endwell marked the first regional finals win in the program’s history. Although the team struggled to pick up wins last year, Meyerson said, the team came into this spring with confidence it could compete at this high level.
“If you look at our record from last year, we were much better than our record indicated,” he said. “This year, we knew we had the talent to do this from our first preseason game.”
Rye will play on June 14 at Union Endicott High School, where the team will take on Averill Park from Section II in the Class A semis.
The Warriors advanced to the semis on the strength of a 16-1 win over Massena on June 7.
“They’ve got an ace who is going to be pitching for Siena College next year, and I think they’re a lot like us,” Bruno said of Rye’s semifinal opponent. “They’re on a hot streak, they’ve got a lot of chemistry, and they play for each other.”