Pressure crushes – or it may form diamonds, depending on the substance involved.
When the Hewlett baseball team lost a lead in the top of the seventh inning April 18, to find itself trailing Conference A3 rival Glen Cove by a run in the bottom of the frame, Bulldogs coach Andy DeBernardo witnessed his club’s character crystalize in the high-leverage moment.
Having weathered a four-run seventh-inning rally to outlast host Glen Cove 6-5 in the series opener – before staving off another Big Red bid the following game to wrest a 3-2 win at home – Hewlett, it seemed, had finally pressed its luck one too many times.
Though distressed, DeBernardo eschewed a fired-up pep-talk, opting merely to remind his team to stay the course, and in short order five straight Bulldogs batters had gotten aboard before senior Dillon Ristano finalized Hewlett’s toughest-yet gut-check, delivering a walk-off single to sweep visiting Glen Cove with a 6-5 victory – which lifted Hewlett to 5-1 in A3, 5-4 overall, and left the Bulldogs a half-game behind conference leader South Side.
“I’ve started to call this team the Cardiac Kids,” DeBernardo said. “We’re not deep. But this team never quits. We’re showing we’re ready, when we have to play the big dogs, for tight games.”
After stumbling out of the gate 0-3, Hewlett found its stride when its rotation fell into place in early April, with All-Conference righthander Jason Barry emerging as the hands-down ace. Across 26.1 innings, Barry (1-1, 1 save) has surrendered just two earned runs (0.69 ERA), while striking out 31 against two walks allowed. “Jason’s been amazing,” DeBernardo said of the senior sometime shortstop, who is batting .321. “We’ll start him every game one because he always gives us a chance.”
Ristano – the Bulldogs top slugger who is slashing .519/.594/.704 (1.297 OPS) – had proved a top-tier No. 2 starter, going 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA, until a recent elbow strain forced a curtailment of his efforts on the hill. For the foreseeable future, DeBernardo said, Ristano will take his place in Hewlett’s battery solely at catcher, where his pitch-calling aptitude can greatly offset the loss of his valuable arm. “Dillon calling games is like auto-pilot, like another coach on the field,” DeBernardo said. “We need him healthy. When he’s a hundred percent again, we might use him as a closer.”
While stressing that his club cannot look past its next-up league opponent Plainedge, DeBernardo acknowledged that Hewlett’s series with South Side (April 29 to May 5) may have conference-title implications, underscoring the Bulldogs’ need for continued high output from stalwarts such as seniors Michael DeCicco (.450/.529/.450) and Liam Stroh (.316/.519/.632) – who has Hewlett’s only home run – and junior Anthony Isayev (.360/.529/.400) – who leads the team with 14 stolen bases.
“We have to keep executing,” DeBernardo said. “We don’t have the best team every day, but we’ll fight you till the end. This is a real team.”