LAKELAND, N.Y.— Many people feel that the New York Yankees, for all their offensive prowess, need to acquire another starting pitcher, maybe even two, if they want to seriously contend for a World Series championship this fall.
If that’s the case, they should call Lakeland baseball coach Bill Casey to see if his pitchers are available. That’s because they have been as clutch as they come.
One of those pitchers is sophomore sensation Joe Vetrano. Vetrano threw a complete-game (5 hits, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts) in leading No. 12-seeded Lakeland to a 3-2 victory over third-seeded Byram Hills in the Class A championship contest on May 26 at Palisades Credit Union Park in Rockland County.
“It means a lot,” Lakeland coach Bill Casey said about winning the sectional title “This team put the work in. The regular season had its ups and downs but when the playoffs started they stepped it up a notch. I am so happy for them.”
With Section 1 receiving a bye, Lakeland’s next game will be the regional final between either Section 9 champion Cornwall or Section 4 champion Union Endicott on the road Saturday, June 2, at a time to be determined.
“This is the best feeling ever, it’s like a dream come true,” said Vetrano, who was named MVP. “This is what you hope to win one day and we just did it. It feels amazing. We worked so hard for this and we always pick each other up and it paid off.”
Vetrano attributed his success to being able to trust his teammates.
“My boys had my back and I knew that whenever a ball was catchable it would be caught,” said Vetrano, whose team won its first sectional crown since 2010.
Lakeland went up 3-0 when Jason Green’s RBI triple drove in Andrew Croce in the fourth inning. The Hornets never trailed in the game or the entire tournament, for that matter.
“It was huge that we jumped on the board early,” said Vetrano, who has verbally committed to play at Boston College. “It made me feel relaxed on the bump and just go out and fire strikes and I knew they would have my back defensively as well.”
The Bobcats battled back with two runs in the sixth inning but Vetrano was able to get out of the jam.
Lakeland jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Matt Schenck, who received the Players Player Award, doubled home Evan Berta and then was brought home on an Andrew Croce sacrifice fly.
Lakeland advanced to the championship game by defeating visiting No. 17 Brewster 9-1 on May 24 in the sectional semifinals, with Eric Portella throwing a complete game, allowing no earned runs.
“The reason I pitched so well was because I knew we really needed a win,” Portella said. “Not only did I help myself gain the confidence but my teammates behind me on really helped as well.”
Offensively, the Hornets were led by Vetrano (2 for 3, homer, double, walk) and Leo Cummings (2 for 4, 2 doubles), with Vetrano hitting a lead-off homer in a six-run opening inning.
“Thanks to the offense in the first inning, their runs really helped lift a big weight off my shoulders,” Portella said. “Even though we were able to pull off six runs in the first inning, we still had to focus on the rest of the game. Overall we did great. I’m glad we were able to pull an amazing win out of this game and can’t wait for the game on Saturday.”
The Hornets won their sectional quarterfinal game at No. 4 Nyack 4-2 on May 22.
Berta stood out by allowing just one earned run and striking out five in a complete-game effort.
“I used my off-speed very effectively to keep them off balance and my two-seam was effective on both sides of the plate, creating a ton of weak contact,” Berta said. “My catcher, Zach Lerman, called a great game.”
Lakeland (14-9) took a 2-1 lead on homer by Matt Schenck in the third inning and never looked back.
“Matt’s had so many big hits for us this year,” Berta said. “His home run was huge after we gave them a run in the bottom of the first. We start five sophomores but Matt’s our senior leader and that was big for him and for the team.”
Vetrano (triple, 2 walks, 3 runs) did the job at the plate.
“I’ve played ball with Joe since we were in the third grade and I’ve seen him do this so often but it never gets old,” Berta said. “I’ve seen him work so hard this year, including our winter workouts with our travel team. His strength and power continues to improve. He has a great eye, swings at good pitches and always makes solid contact. It’s easy to see why he finds so many gaps and home runs.”