Poly Prep pitcher Andrew Zapata loves high pressure situations on the mound.
The junior right-hander faced such a situation Saturday afternoon in Washington Heights. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning, Zapata faced dangerous George Washington hitter Nelson Rodriguez.
“I just like when the crowd is yelling, the noise, the fans are into the game and it gets me fired up,” Zapata said.
The competitive Zapata didn’t have totally dominating stuff, but arguably the best pitcher in the city got the right results. Zapata only allowed a run in the fifth inning and one more in the seventh as he tossed a complete-game, five-hitter, striking out 10 as Poly Prep beat George Washington, 5-2, in a non-league game between city powerhouses.
Zapata did a good job battling the powerful lineup of the reigning PSAL champions. He induced Rodriguez into hitting fielder’s choice RBI in the fifth to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth with just one run scored.
Rodriguez did get a RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to cut Poly’s lead to 5-2, but it was Zapata’s mental toughness, along with his ability to mix his four pitches, which impressed Poly Prep coach Matt Roventini.
“The kid is an absolute competitor,” Roventini said. “I wouldn’t trade the way he competes with anybody on the mound. He does that on the field.”
Poly Prep (4-1 Ivy) also had hitting stars. Starting catcher Robert Calabrese went 3-for-3 with an RBI and threw out two base stealers. Christian Pellegrino hit a two-run home run off George Washington pitcher Edwin Corniel in the top of the fifth to increase Poly Prep’s lead to 4-0. Phil Maldari added an RBI single in the seventh inning.
The Blue Devils, who won the NYSAISAA championship last year, not only recorded a significant win over the Trojans, but continued to signify the turnaround Roventini was seeking a week ago from his team.
After back-to-back losses to St. Joseph by the Sea and Fieldston, Roventini challenged his team to wake up from their lackadaisical play. Poly Prep responded with an impressive 11-0 shutout win over Horace Mann Monday and defeated Hackley two days later.
“We hit a bump on the road,” Roventini said. “We know we’re a very good baseball team. We know the problem is we got to show up and play every day, that’s the thing. We can’t expect good things to happen, we have to make good things happen on the field. They competed tough on the field, that’s our thing.”
George Washington coach Steve Mandl believed his team could have been a bit more patient at the plate against Zapata. The Trojans stranded two runners in the second and third innings, and their best shot came in the fifth and sixth innings.
“We needed to take advantage of a couple of situations and we didn’t,” Mandl said. “They didn’t make adjustment, shorten up sometimes when they should have."
George Washington (6-0, PSAL), ranked No. 1 in New York City by MSG Varsity, loaded the bases in the fifth inning before Rodriguez hit into a fielder’s choice to score Michael Richardson from third base. Calabrese then picked off Steven Segarra, who pinch ran for Rodriguez, on a steal attempt. Zapata struck out Bryan Mejia on the next pitch as Poly kept a 4-1 lead. The Trojans stranded another two runners in the sixth.
“He [Zapata] throws a lot of pitches for strikes and he’s tough,” Mandl said. “He’s confident but he’s good. He throws four pitches for strikes and changes speed very well. He’s got a lot of movement and he doesn’t walk anybody. He’s the best [pitcher] in the country.”
Calabrese says the Blue Devils recovered their confidence, and knows they must maintain that level of play to beat anybody on their schedule. No. 5 Poly Prep faces Berkeley Carroll Monday in a rematch of the NYSAISAA final.
“I feel like everyone now on the team knows we are good and good enough to beat anything,” Calabrese said. “I think this win is great for us. We have confidence and ability to win.”