Maybe it was a lot to expect that an eager and determined group of baseball players from North could step on the diamond and merly roll over their scheduled opposition. A false sense of security has seemed evident after five easy wins against "developmental" teams, scoring in double digits each time while taking advantage of lower level pitching and defensive ability of their early adversaries to compile overblow stats at bat.
Still showing to good advantage in their first two league encounters including a classic effort against Friends Academy, though losing 4-2 in 10 innings, and a surprising 9-3 victory against highly regarded Bethpage, the locals were victims to Valley Stream South in an 18-4 shellacking with a depleted bench and windy atmosphere a contributing factor in the unfortunate debacle. With games against Locust Valley, Roslyn, and Malverne on tap this week, the Blazers must regroup and regain a semblance of an earlier confidence in their play to compete on a favorable basis.
It was April 14 at the home field midway through spring recess that the Blazers met the Quakers of Friends Academy in a conference B-VI game, their first outside the developmental setup. Two pitching aces were matched; Josh Bilgrei for the locals and Wade Hampton for the visitors. For five and one-half innings it was scoreless with Steve Konan and Bilgrei registering the only Blazer safeties while a third inning triple by Friends' Mike Linchitz was the only Quaker early scoring threat. A leadoff sixth inning triple by Kohan set up a squeeze bunt by Micah Tucker, giving the locals a 1-0 lead. After Bilgrei gave up two infield hits to the visitors in their seventh turn at bat Konan was called to the mound to stem the tide with his assortment of "heat," shifting Bilgrei to first and Tucker moving behind the plante. On a 2-1 count, leadoff hitter John Dello-Lacono drilled an RBI single to tie the score. Later with the bases full and one out, Kohan induced DH hitter Bryan Good to tap back to the mound for an inning ending home to first double play, preserving the 1-1 deadlock. Lefty Justin Katz took over mound duties starting the 10th for the locals, yielding a second triple to Linchitz and a go-ahead RBI single to Brian Oldenberg. Shortstop Henry O'Connell then jolted the North contingent with a towering 325-foot homer to the left field foliage for a 4-1 Quaker lead. The home team could only tally once in their half as Kohan drove home Jon Donenfeld with his second double and third extra base hit but Drew Schechtman fanned to end a 10 inning thriller at 4-2. Hampton went the route for the victors, striking out 14 and walking four, allowing seven hits, three each to Kohan and Bilgrei. Katz was charged with the loss in his final inning stint, fanning two but allowing three hits and runs.
On April 21, following a postponement of the previous day's game at Valley Stream South, the Blazers journeyed to Bethpage with only 10 players suited up. In a memorable affair raising many eyebrows among Nassau baseball coaches around the circuit, the visitors shocked the home standing Golden Eagles with a 9-3 thumping, using their "inside baseball" expertise to advantage with squeeze bunts, steals and scratch infield hits to dazzle the awe-struck division favorites. Their starting pitcher Wayne Eskridge, coming in with a 3-0 record and all-star catcher Henry Suhr who struck out three times, were mesmerized by the Blazers baserunning antics with overthrows on pickoff attempts. Jon Donenfeld, a 10th grade lefty hurler, pitched a courageous route going effort for the Blazers, yielding a second inning run to the Eagles before the locals set their scoring machine in motion, tallying in four straight innings in one, two, five and one increments to assume a 9-1 lead by the sixth inning. Four of their six hits did not leave the infield as Anand Shah drove in two runs with bases loaded hits in separate innings and Kohan beat out another dribbler in the five run fifth. A long double to deep right after three strikeouts was a late inning thrust by Billy Tagg, the longest of the Blazer hits. Eskridge was relieved in the fifth, taking his first loss, having walked seven while fanning six. Donenfeld tired noticeably in the last two innings, throwing 60 of his 145 pitch count during that span, walking 10 in all but striking out six. The second double by Dan Grunewald over Shah's head near the right field fence and a run scoring single by Jon Borowka netted the final two runs for Bethpage in the seventh inning.
A Saturday morning game on April 25 at Valley Stream South was a disastrous outing, to say the least, as the Falcons opened and closed with seven run innings in the first and sixth to rout the locals in an 18-4 slugfest. A tricky crosswind blowing in created havoc in the field for the Blazers as Schechtman mishandled three infield popups along with other misadventures on outfield flies. Mike Stock led off with a popup to third on a full count but the ball dropped untouched near the mound for the first of his three hits including a sixth inning triple. Within three pitches he had stolen his way around the bases, helped by an overthrow, to score North's first run, hardly a portent of things to come. Blazer mound ace Bilgrei was the victim of the Valley Stream attack in his five inning stint, yielding 11 runs on nine hits plus seven walks and six strikeouts. Lefty Brian Litvack was racked for seven runs on five hits working the sixth inning, including three doubles and a 340-foot circuit drive by lefty hitting Doug Clark far over a short right field fence. Chuck Ristoli hurled his southpaw slants for the seven inning distance for the home team, fanning 10 and walking six. Stock (3), Bilgrei (2) and Katz managed the six Blazer hits, contributing to single runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings.
The Stock-Bilgrei-Kohan threesome continue to lead the Blazer batters with BAs of .480, .455, and .450, respectively. Mike also has 19 stolen bases, 12 hits, 14 runs scored and 10 walks to lead the team while Steve has six extra base hits plus three singles and four (ouch) times plunked by errant pitches. Josh's astonishing improvement at bat has produced 10 hits with two doubles; he had just one hit all last year. On the mound he has fanned 36 in 24 innings, among the leaders in the county. The team BA has dropped to .314 but has produced 82 runs on 64 hits in eight games as North hopes to improve on its 6-2 record in the games to come.