On the bus ride back from Manhasset after South Side dropped the first game of the Nassau Conference III baseball championship series in heartbreaking fashion June 16, coach Tom Smith’s message to the Cyclones was “don’t think you’re unable to beat these guys.”
Fifth-seeded South Side, which was one out away from elimination in the opening round, responded by blowing out the Indians 13-1 in Game 2 the following afternoon and then rode the arm of junior Danny Russell to a 2-0 victory in last Friday’s deciding third game for its first county title since 1982.
“We came out swinging at Barash [Field] and jumped on them early in Game 2,” Smith said. “That win gave us all the confidence we needed. We felt great going into the third game. After Danny walked a few early, he attacked all areas of the strike zone and was dominant.”
Russell allowed two hits and struck out six. Junior TJ Maher singled in the first and second innings and scored both runs — the first when senior Paul Mata was hit by a pitch with bases loaded and the second on sophomore Sean Britt’s RBI single. Britt belted a three-run homer as part of the offensive fireworks in Game 2.
“We never put our heads down,” said Maher, who in Game 2 was the winning pitcher and supported himself by hitting a grand slam. “We played team baseball every day. It feels amazing to be county champs.”
Maher was dynamite on the mound again last Sunday, but the Cyclones’ season ended with a 3-1 loss to Newfield in a hard-fought Long Island championship game at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. Newfield pitcher Dylan Johnson carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and had 13 strikeouts. Maher, the Nassau Conference III playoff MVP, was equal to the task and allowed just one earned run in a complete-game performance.
“We left it all on the field,” Smith said. “It truly was an incredible run.”
South Side was the streakiest team in Nassau on paper. The Cyclones won eight straight out of the gate, then lost seven in a row including before taking the regular-season finale over Carey. They opened the playoffs against the Seahawks also and were on the verge of elimination when senior Jack Temple crushed a dramatic three-run homer over the fence in right-center with two outs in the top of the seventh for an 8-7 victory. Sophomore Thomas McCarthy retired Carey in order in the bottom of the seventh.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty anxious up there knowing it could be my last high school game,” Temple said of his season-saving at-bat. “It was pretty surreal. It was one of those hits that came off the bat hard. I wasn’t sure if it would go out, but I knew I hit it well.”
The Cyclones swept top-seeded Roslyn in the best-of-3 semis, 5-0 and 9-2, after losing twice to the Bulldogs during the regular season. In the series opener, junior Andrew Fingleton made his only start of the year on the mound and tossed four shutout innings with five strikeouts. Senior Kyle Aromiskis and junior Danny Fuentes knocked in two runs apiece against Roslyn ace Hayden Leiderman. Aromiskis and sophomore Robert Pericolosi each had three RBIs in the clincher.
“We were a much different team than what Roslyn saw during the regular season,” Smith said. “It was definitely a roller coaster ride. We came into the year with only three players with varsity experience. We didn’t handle adversity well until the playoffs, but the talent was always there.”