North Shore attains playoff goal


Behind batterymates, lefty ace Garret Gates and catcher Matthew Ryan, the North Shore baseball team was back in the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.

For some schools, that’s not a long drought but there’s a strong baseball tradition along the shores of Hempstead Harbor. 

A 4-3 victory on May 6 over powerful Clarke clinched the Vikings’ berth as the fourth seed in Conference A2.  The Vikings bounced back after a 1-4 start in coach Rob Gates’ first season at the helm. 

“Two years in a row without playoffs, which is very unlike North Shore baseball,’’ said coach Gates, who previously served as an assistant coach for nine years. “When I took over, we had a meeting with the boys. Every single kid, to a man, agreed with me the one big goal was to get back in the playoffs.

“I don’t want to say mission accomplished because we’re in a playoff series but the rest is gravy. We put ourselves in a hole early and we had to fight and claw to get back into the hunt.’’

The best-of-three Nassau Class A quarterfinals began this week with North Shore forced to face the No. 1 seed from Conference A1, Wantagh. In the opener Monday, Wantagh edged the Vikings, 3-2 with each team mustering just 3 hits. The Warriors took Game 2 Tuesday, 7-3.

Despite early-season injuries to two important players in shortstop stud, Ryan Lau and rotation cog Gary Leschinski, North Shore finished the regular season 9-11 overall and 7-8 in conference play.

“We lost two key players that could have changed our season but as a team we all came together,’’ Ryan said. “It’s a great accomplishment that everyone on the team wanted, especially  all the seniors in our last year.”

Ryan had a blazing season, orchestrating Gates’ magical season from behind the plate and also busting out with the bat. 

“Pound for pound, he might be the best catcher in Nassau County,’’ coach Gates said. “He lives, eats and breathes baseball.’’

Ryan, who will play at Adelphi, earned All-County honors, batting .435 with 2 home runs and 18 RBI. 

“It all started in the winter,’’ Ryan said. “Last year wasn’t my best year at the plate. I took that into the winter, training hard every day, working on catching, hitting and my speed.’’

He also credited new hitting coach Kraig Binnick for instilling in him “more confidence up at the plate.’’

Ryan also managed Gates’ perfect season. Gates, an All-County selection headed to NJIT, threw a perfect game in the season opener, then won two giant contests down the stretch to seal the playoff bid – stifling Seaford and Clarke. 

The hitting star in the Clarke clincher was Antonio Barbetta (2-for-2 with a clutch RBI double). But Gates carried them home, allowing just one hit with 11 Ks in 5 2/3 innings. Gates also got out of an early bases-loaded, no-out jam with North Shore trailing 2-0. 

Gates finished the regular season with 89 Ks in 42.1 innings with a 0.66 ERA. “I love catching Garret,’’ Ryan said. “I played with him my whole life.’’

The third star was Justin Rosen, a second baseman who earned All-Conference after knocking in 23 runs with a .370 batting average. “He batted behind Ryan and picked up the offensive slack,” Rob Gates said.

Raymond Scalzo was sound at the plate and in relief and senior Trevor Miller filled in well at shortstop after Lau went down. A natural second baseman, Miller hit .300 with 20 walks.

The bad news is 12 seniors graduate. The good news is the JV exploded, going 13-3-1 under new coach Paul Keil. Those JV players are ready for the next level. “We have so much talent coming up,’’ coach Gates said.