Rich O’Keefe had just belted a clutch, two-run triple to help Snug Harbor pull even with Staten Island on Monday and now it was Chris Martin’s turn to step to the plate and get a chance to play hero.
Did O’Keefe’s big hit put less pressure on him?
“Not really,’' said the soft-spoken Martin, who admitted to still feeling a bit nervous.
The heat of the moment, however, did nothing to prevent Martin from performing.
The righty-swinging Martin stroked a tie-breaking, opposite-field two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the fifth to propel Snug Harbor to a 4-2 Little League District 24 12s All-Star baseball tournament quarterfinal victory over visiting SILL Monday in Livingston.
The victory vaults the No. 4-seeded Snugs into Thursday’s semifinal round. Should No. 3 Great Kills defeat No. 6 West Shore on Monday, Snug Harbor will visit top-seeded Mid-Island. If West Shore upsets Great Kills, the Snugs will trek to South Shore for their semifinal contest. Regardless of where it plays, Thursday’s game will begin at 8 p.m.
“It’s a great feeling to advance to the semifinals. The kids have been together since they’re six or seven-years-old and have worked really hard — it was great to get a win during their last game in front of the home fans here at Snug Harbor‚’’ said SHLL manager Alex Martinez. “Give Staten Island (LL) a lot of credit, they’re a really good team that’s well-coached and we have all the respect in the world for them. We’re very similar Little Leagues that are just trying to get a shot at the big boys.’'
Snug Harbor’s Tyler Stern (4 2/3 IP, 2 hits, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks) and Staten Island’s Jonathan Mendez matched zeroes for four innings before S.I. rallied behind its bench in the top of the fifth.
Vincent Spagnuolo (hit by pitch) and Christian Macolino (walk) reached to open the frame and after a strikeout and a fielder’s choice, Danny Rybkiewicz loaded the bases with a single to left and Stern was forced to exit after hitting the 85-pitch mark.
With James Evans relieving Stern, the lefty-swinging Armani Perez stroked a two-run single to left to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
However, SHLL staged a rally of its own to not only get back into the game, but grab all the momentum.
After John Haugen drew a one-out walk, Shane Gordon stroked a single to left-center before Mendez got the second out. The righty-swinging O’Keefe (2 for 3), however, then stepped to the plate and proceeded to belt a two-run triple down the right-field line to help the Snugs tie the score.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time (O’Keefe) pulls the ball. He’s hit the snack stand (at Snug Harbor) more than anyone,’' laughed Martinez. “But on his triple, he couldn’t have placed the ball in a better spot.’'
Then it was Martin’s turn and Snug’s clean-up hitter proceeded to deliver his game-changing, two-run homer over the right-field fence to give the hosts a 4-2 lead.
“I was just trying to get a ball to the outfield,’' said Martin, who also had a double. “I shortened up my swing and it really feels great to get such a big hit in a playoff game.’'
“Chris is a strong, strong kid that gets (the pitch) deep (on the delivery) and I was confident that he’d not only hit it, but hard,’' added Martinez, who received solid defensive play from catcher Christian Wiese (threw out runner attempting to steal). “He just muscled it.’'
Evans (1 1/3 IP, 1 hit, no runs, 1 BB, 2 Ks), meanwhile, earned the victory after pitching a scoreless sixth. The right-hander allowed a leadoff walk, but recorded an out against the next three hitters to solidify Snug’s trip to the semifinals.