Sarra: Baseball races? It doesn't get any better
Could the schedule maker have planned the final week of the high school baseball season any better? How exciting that locals had the opportunity to watch the first- and second-place teams decide four Suffolk league titles against each other in the last week of the regular season.
It's never happened before.
And don't forget the CHSAA, in which first place through sixth place was separated by three games with four games left to play heading into the weekend. Now, that's parity.
The excitement started with Smithtown East, which has a pitching staff that proved to be one of Long Island's best. The Bulls needed to win two of three from East Islip, a team that averaged 11 runs per game, to grab a share of the League III crown. Lefthander Justin Cusano shut out East Islip, 3-0, on Thursday to set the stage for the season finale on Friday. There, starter Doug Milne, who homered in Cusano's win, pitched the Bulls to a 6-3 victory and a co-championship. It was the Bulls' second title in three years. The win also gives the Bulls a higher seed in the Class AA playoffs.
In League IV, Half Hollow Hills West trailed Hauppauge by a game in the standings heading into the final three- game series. The Colts, buoyed by an outstanding pitching performance from junior Luke Stampfl, swept the three games to win the league title outright. The Colts finished 17-3 and are on a 15-game winning streak.
Kings Park needed the same kind of magic to capture the League V crown. The Kingsmen opened the three-game set against first place Eastport-South Manor with a 3-1 win from junior righthander Joe Guercio.
It was the second time this season that Guercio beat Eastport-South Manor 3-1.
But the Sharks avoided a late-season collapse and came back to win the final two games of the series to grab the school's second straight league title.
And then there was League I and Commack, which dropped the first two games of its final series with Ward Melville and young pitching aces Joe Flynn and Anthony Kay. The Cougars beat the Patriots in the final game of the season to win its first league title since 2008.
The CHSAA plays an 18-game schedule, and with one week to go, it promises the same kind of excitement. First-place St. Anthony's, under first-year coach John Phelan, split with Chaminade Saturday, creating a cluster of teams at the top of the standings.
The Friars are 11-5, trailed by St. John the Baptist (10-6), Chaminade (9-7), Holy Trinity (9-7) and Kellenberg ( 9-8). Get the picture: It's very tight.
"I have to say there is total parity in our league like never before," said Ralph Dalton, St. John the Baptist's athletic director who also serves as the assistant baseball coach. "We could finish second, third or fourth or fifth. If things break our way we could finish first. But a lot has to happen. Everyone wants the first-round bye."
In the CHSAA, the first three teams get a bye in the postseason. And six of the seven teams in the league have a shot. Every game will make a difference this week.
Oh, and Nassau County started the playoffs this weekend. It kicked off the Class A playoffs with Greg Welch throwing a five-hit shutout as Wantagh edged Garden City, 1-0, and Manhasset beat North Shore, 4-2, in 13 innings.
Don't you just love the postseason.