WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y.— Connor Mahoney was nowhere to be found just a half hour before North Salem’s baseball team was set to take the field against Tuckahoe in the Section 1 Class C championship game.
The Tigers’ ace woke up with a stomach bug at 5:30 a.m. and his status was in doubt in the hours leading up to the game. North Salem coach Rob Gilchrist was ready to go with No. 3 starter Will Baumler if Mahoney couldn’t pitch.
Mahoney entered Dutchess Stadium just 15 minutes before the start of the championship game. The senior left-hander was not about to miss one of the biggest starts of his life.
“I saw him walk in at 9:45 and he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to give it a try,’” Gilchrist said.
The Tigers were glad he did.
Mahoney tossed 5.2 innings while striking out 13 batters and giving up just two hits to lead second-seeded North Salem to a 7-2 win over top-seeded Tuckahoe and back-to-back Section 1 championships on May 27 in Wappingers Falls.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, but he grinded,” Gilchrist said. “He did what he had to do and he knew he had seven guys strong behind him to make the plays. We relied on one another and that’s what we’ve been doing this whole year.”
The game’s MVP battled moments of wildness as he walked six batters but he was able to wriggle out of jams when the moment called for it. In the third inning with North Salem leading 2-1, Mahoney picked off a runner at second base to get out of the inning.
“When Connor struggles it’s like two inches off the plate,” catcher Nate Carminucci said. “That kid really doesn’t miss. He throws strikes and makes them into hitters. The fact that he can throw his off-speed in counts that are 3-0, 2-0, it just keeps hitters off balance.”
Mahoney admitted that the first section title last season was special since they were the underdogs, but this one felt just as good.
“This year we knew we could win with the team we had again,” Mahoney said. “We only lost three seniors—in key positions—but we knew we had the pitching.”
Gilchrist knew it was a new season and they couldn’t ride last season’s coattails.
“We kept a mindset of playing each day game by game—let’s not look ahead,” Gilchrist said. “We really didn’t look back to what we did last year. There was no need—basically the same group. We had a goal and no one really talked about the goal. Our goal was to get to this day and lay it all on the line. I’m really happy for the guys.”
Sophomore Rian Balbino relieved Mahoney in the sixth inning with two outs and runners on first and third. An error brought home a run but Balbino was able to get out of the jam with a strikeout as the Tigers led 5-2.
“All year I’ve been coming in to close—just trying to throw strikes,” Balbino said. “Put the ball in play—ground ball—get an out and try to get out of there.”
Gilchrist said the team has all the confidence in the world in Balbino’s ability to close games.
“The whole year he’s come in and he’s throwing strikes for us,” Mahoney said. “He’s a lefty and he’s got a good tail. As long as he pounds the zone we’re good and it showed.”
North Salem added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning on RBI singles from senior Jesse Fleming and Balbino.
“That does help because you kind of go into cruise control,” Mahoney said of the late runs. “You can just kind of work your stuff and just work inside and outside.”
In the bottom of the seventh with one out, shortstop Adam Concadoro fielded a groundball, touched second base and fired to first baseman Phil Foglia for the unassisted double play to end it.
The dogpile wasn’t too far behind.
Carminucci got the Tigers out to a 2-0 first-inning lead on a two-run single. Danny Press popped up a bunt on a suicide squeeze with the bases loaded in the fifth and it fell in no man’s land to bring home another run.
“We just took it one game at a time this year,” Carminucci said. “During the season, there were times where we felt high as could be and we felt our lows. Every team goes through that. Today we probably played the best game we did all season. I’m really excited.”
D’Innocenzo’s sacrifice fly drove in Balbino in the sixth inning to stretch the lead to 6-1.
Small ball was the key for North Salem against Tuckahoe freshman starter Anthony DeFabbia.
“We were just moving runners over,” Carminucci said. “You get runners on second and third—poking some singles. No one’s really going for the long ball. We’re just trying to get key hits in key situations.”
Concadoro, who received the Players Player Award, finished 3 for 4 with two runs scored.
The defending state champions now will set their sights on another state championship. Last year, they dominated their way to a title and this year they’re looking to replicate that.
“States of course is the ultimate goal,” Balbino said. “We have to just keep going, don’t think about it too much and do our best.”
North Salem advances to the regionals where it will face Section 9’s Pine Plains on June 1 at 5 p.m. at Cantine Field in Saugerties.
“We’re going to enjoy it,” Gilchrist said of winning the section. “We’ve had a lot of pressure on us all year. We’re going to have fun in the regionals.”