VSN overcomes obstacles for playoff berth


Home-field advantage was a foreign concept to the Valley Stream North baseball team, which didn’t have a home turf know the crooks and crannies of until last week in its win over Mineola.

“I’d say over all it’s been a good season, but it’s been a challenging season,” said VSN coach Phil Sanfilippo. “Our field has been under construction the entire season, which required a lot of moving parts and logistics of having to practice elsewhere and having to play home games elsewhere.”

But that didn’t affect the morale of the Spartans (6-9 in Conference A-1) whatsoever as they just clinched a spot in the Nassau Class A playoffs late last week.

“I don’t think it affected morale,” Sanfilippo said. “[The] guys stayed positive, had a great attitude about it; I said to them day one, the preseason meeting that we had right before the start of the season, that we don’t have the north field available the next couple of weeks, and it may be longer, however, we refuse to use this as an excuse for not winning baseball games this year. It’s not ideal, it’s not what we want, but we still need to put a competitive product on the field.”

To make matters more difficult, one of the starting pitchers was taken off the rotation with an injury, impacting the team’s success over spring break according to Sanfilippo, until North had a come-from-behind win in the third game of a series against Floral Park. That momentum carried over into its May 6 game against Mineola.

It was the starting rotation that Sanfilippo was first to credit with why the team is in the playoffs, saying how strong and well Jimmy Strohlein, Nick Lang and Anthony Rivera have all taken care of business on the mound.

“Games that we’ve lost, the lack of offensive production has been the culprit, it’s really hardly ever been poor starting pitching,” Sanfilippo said. “All three of those guys have kept us afloat the entire season.”

With an up-and-down offense, Sanfilippo naming Michael Pagano, the first baseman and catcher as the most consistent bat in the lineup.

“He’s been a rock-solid bat in the middle of the lineup the entire season,” Sanfilippo explained. “He has a good eye at the plate, he does not go down looking, he always protects the strike zone. He’s been pitched around a little bit, [pitchers] being careful with him, so he gets a lot of 2-0 counts and he’s good at being selective, waiting for a good pitch to hit.”

There’s also the defense, saying this aspect is dramatically better this year than 2023. Sanfilippo singled out Gavin Ferreira, a highly touted defender at shortstop, and Nick Naumov.

“If you’re not squared away at shortstop, you’re not going to win a lot of high school baseball games; he has good as good defensively at shortstop as I’d say any other shortstop I’ve had since I’ve been a high school coach here, defensively,” Sanfilippo said. “[Naumov has] played some really good defense for us, too, at center field. Similar to what I said about shortstop, it’s another position that you cannot win baseball games if you don’t have the right guy playing that position.

Now, it’s a rally to show the county why Valley Stream North belongs in the playoffs. It will face a strong first-round opponent in Clarke.

“We belong in the postseason, we felt that we’re a good enough team to get there and we’re happy at this point that we accomplished that goal,” Sanfilippo said. “The second goal going forward would be to make some noise when you get there.”