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 the Mahopac Indians 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.
“Some people want the easy road, but I wanted these guys (Mahopac),” North Salem coach Scott Schaeffer said. “I knew this was the best team other than us, and I wanted to do it that way. It feels unbelievable, exactly how I imagined.”
It was the finals matchup that everyone had anticipated between the two juggernauts in a pitcher’s duel featuring two talented left-handers.
Rian Balbino of North Salem and Ryan Castrataro of Mahopac used all they had in the tank to go the distance.
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 after Frank DiGaudio ripped a base-hit to left.
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 grounder 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.
“We’ll keep chipping away until something breaks,” Schaeffer said. “That’s the personality of this team and why I love these guys so much. Never say die.”
Balbino coasted to retire the side in the seventh while his electric velocity produced seven strikeouts in the complete-game effort.
“That is what we are known for,” Schaeffer said. “Pitching and defense. Knowing when to cover bases, knowing your cut-offs. It’s the little things that win baseball games. Rian Balbino has been a solid, unbelievable baseball player since I had him at 10 years old. He is a big pressure guy, and a guy you want when the chips are down. He proved it today.”
The newly crowned Tigers finished the summer with a final record of 12-4. They knocked off East Yonkers 3-1 in a tight semifinal.
Most importantly, always in the hearts and minds of North Salem’s community is the late Jack Baumler, who passed away when a tree struck his home during Hurricane Sandy. He had played with the group since the age of 8.
“We talked about him before the game with these boys,” Schaeffer said. “That was a driving force for them to succeed. He still is a team member and I feel like he was with us a bit today and that makes it extra special.”