By John Torenli
Poly Prep junior right-hander Andrew Zapata saved his best for last, which is difficult to do when you’ve been spectacular all season long.
The Blue Devils’ undisputed staff ace yielded a pair of unearned runs on one hit while striking out 12 in a complete-game effort Wednesday afternoon as the Bay Ridge Country Day School pulled out a 4-2 victory over Ivy League rival Fieldston for its second consecutive NYSAISS state championship.
“He was excellent,” Poly Prep coach Matt Roventini told the Eagle on Thursday after watching his team complete a breathtaking run to its fourth private school title in six years at Westchester’s Manhattanville College. “We made a few mistakes along the way, but he picked us up.”
The Blue Devils’ offense provided Zapata with a 3-0 cushion after two innings as senior co-captain Matt Caposio blasted a two-run homer in the opening frame and Morgan Gray ripped a run-scoring single in the second.
Fieldston, the only Ivy League opponent to top Poly this season, answered with a pair of runs set up by some Blue Devil misplays in the second, tightening the contest and putting the onus on Zapata to shut the door.
The third-year hurler responded by retiring all but one batter over the final four innings, striking out the side in the seventh to cap another banner year for the Blue Devils.
“He’s the best pitcher in the city of New York,” Roventini boasted, adding that he’d like to have Zapata back for another four years while admitting that he’s savoring the opportunity to watch his ace return for the 2013 campaign.
“Big-game pitchers pitch big in big games. He’s only going to get better and his work ethic will help him do that.”
Phil Maldari’s RBI single in the fifth provided a two-run cushion, which put Roventini at ease a bit after the game tightened up.
“It lets you take that deep breath,” he admitted. “They never got it evened up again. I think, as a coach, when we were able to get that big hit from Phil, I felt a lot more comfortable.”
Comfort was sorely lacking when the Blue Devils split their first six games, leaving many to wonder if they’d even make it back to the state playoffs. But Roventini’s four seniors – Caposio, center fielder Andrew Doar, Joe Saputo and Nicky Caso – played a big part in helping Poly persevere from its lackluster start.
“We were able to stick together,” Roventini said. “We started 3-3. You only have four seniors, you have concern wondering where do we go from here? But we found a way to go on a nice long winning streak and were able to go to the playoffs and win the league again. These guys showed heart. To bounce back and go 17-1 over the last 18 games shows these guys found a way to come together.”
Having a championship-caliber coach in the dugout and along the third-base line couldn’t have hurt much either.
* * *
Seven proved to be the unluckiest number for the Brooklyn Friends varsity baseball team at Coney Island’s MCU Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Kevin Schick, who wore the digit on the back of his bright red jersey, flirted with a no-hitter before settling for a tantalizing two-hit shutout in Martin Luther’s 3-0 upset victory over the Blue Pride in the Private School Athletic Association title game.
“I’m gonna remember this game for the rest of my life,” the senior southpaw gushed moments after striking out 11 BFS batters and receiving the PSAA Tournament MVP award from his proud coach, John Della Marco.
A clear underdog against the defending champions entering the title game, Martin Luther rode the deft pitching of Schick, who kept Blue Pride hitters frustrated and off-balance throughout the contest, and the defense and heads-up base-running of Eddie Mahmut to a stunning triumph.
While Schick faced the minimum through 6 2/3 frames, picking off the lone runner he allowed on base via a walk in the first, Mahmut was on the front end of a double-steal to open the scoring in the fourth.
The first baseman also made a Major League-level headlong dive into the Friends dugout to grab a foul ball in the bottom of the frame.
“I ran over and asked, ‘Did you catch it?’, Schick recalled, joining teammates in watching Mahmut climb back over the dugout rail with the ball firmly in his mitt. “Then I asked if he was hurt.”
“I’ll never forget that catch,” added Mahmut.
After drilling several balls right at Martin Luther defenders in the first few frames, the Blue Pride offense was clearly frustrated by Schick’s soft-tossing style and their opponents’ stellar defense.
“We found the fielders with some hard-hit balls early on,” noted BFS’ Jake Pittari, who earned PSAA Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Blue Pride to their third consecutive championship game. “I didn’t think [Schick] did anything to shut us down.”
BFS starter Misha Holzman, who picked up the PSAA regular-season MVP award, was virtually unhittable himself, falling prey to some poor defensive plays while going the distance in the title game.
“He was league MVP for a reason,” Pittari said of his junior staff ace. “He’s the reason we got here.”
Holzman, unwilling to see his team go down without a fight in the final frame, broke up Schick’s no-hit bid with a two-out single in the seventh. But two batters later, the soft-tossing lefty with the No. 7 on his back ended BFS’ dreams of a second straight PSAA crown.
“You hate to see it end like this, but it doesn’t take away from the great season we had,” said Pittari.