DANBURY, C.T. — Despite steamrolling its way to the top seed of the Greater Hudson Valley Baseball League playoffs, North Salem’s 15-and-under baseball team suffered two gut-wrenching losses to Mahopac in this summer’s regular season.
The third time was a charm as the Tigers gritted out a 5-2 championship victory over second-seeded Mahopac in the ‘B’ final on Sunday, July 30, at Rogers Park in Danbury.
“We didn’t hit like we could,” Mahopac coach Jim Castrataro said. “Our defense wasn’t the best today. We weren’t timing [North Salem pitcher Rian Balbino] right. They never opened the door for us, they made their plays. We didn’t make a couple, and that was the big difference in the game.”
It was the finals matchup that everyone had anticipated between the two juggernauts in a pitcher’s duel featuring two talented left-handers.
Balbino of North Salem and Ryan Castrataro of Mahopac used all they had in the tank to go the distance in the last game of summer.
Neither pitcher allowed a run through the first three innings, but the Indians drew first blood when Christian Campo gapped a two-run single into right-center field, scoring Frank DiGaudio and Nolan Tomassio.
Struggling to solve Castrataro, who tossed a one-hitter in the previous meeting, the Tigers saw Kevin Connolly spark them with a leadoff single down the left-field line in the bottom of the fifth.
Later in the inning, second baseman Nick Springer tapped an RBI groundout to shortstop, making it 2-1. Next up was Mike Puletz, who tied the game by clubbing an RBI single through the left-side hole.
Castrataro escaped the bases-loaded jam from there, forcing Zack Cotter to ground-out to second. But the Indians’ bats froze up in the sixth and North Salem’s heated up to turn the tide.
Shortstop Chris Dolce started the frame by stroking a single to left center before Connolly was hit by a pitch. Scott Harde came up with one out and chopped a ground-ball to third, but the throw made it past the first-baseman as Dolce dashed home to score the go-ahead run.
Providing the insurance was Springer, who lined the capping two-run single down the right-field line with two outs to extend North Salem’s edge to 5-2.
Balbino coasted to retire the side in the seventh while his electric velocity produced seven strikeouts in the complete-game effort.
Although Mahopac didn’t show its finest defensive effort, Campo did gun down Cotter, who was trying to score on a base-hit to right in the first inning. Catcher Tyler Roa corralled the perfect throw and reached to tag out a leaping Puletz at home.
Penciling a final record of 10-5, there is nothing but promise for the future of the Indians’ baseball program. They defeated Shrub Oak, 9-5, in the semifinal and will be playing in the fall along with North Salem in the Greater Hudson Valley Fall League.
“We had an excellent season,” coach Castrataro said. “We’re getting better every year. I’m proud of how the kids have learned how to play the game. They know how to compete. They’ve grown up and are playing on their own now.”