Chris Appell could tell early on that he didn't have his best stuff Saturday. The Clarke righthander issued a leadoff walk before getting a pickoff and allowed an infield single before getting out of the inning unscathed.
Even though he didn't get as many strikeouts as usual, Appell was terrific. He threw a two-hitter, walked four and struck out three for top-seeded Clarke in a 6-0 win over No. 8 Island Trees in the first round of the Nassau Class A baseball playoffs. Clarke (19-0-1) gets a bye into the best-of-three quarterfinals that begin Wednesday. Island Trees (12-6-2) will host No. 10 Division in an elimination game Monday.
"My knuckle drop wasn't working as good," Appell said. "I just had to throw strikes.
"I trust my team to make plays. My stuff wasn't as good. I was looking to get outs. It didn't matter if I didn't get strikeouts."
Appell retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced and induced weak contact consistently, including 13 ground-ball outs.
"He was having trouble with his grip," Clarke coach Tom Abruscato said. "He gutted it out. He pitched more to contact. Give them credit for putting the ball in play. We know we will always get his best mentally. He carried us."
Island Trees ace Mike Jeannetti struck out the first two batters of the game on six pitches before issuing two walks. Then came the at-bat of the game. Joe Carmine had a 14-pitch at-bat, narrowly missing two hits to the opposite field and fouling off several other pitches. It ended when he was hit by a pitch and Jeannetti got out of the inning without allowing a run, but the tone was set.
"I kept fighting pitches off," Carmine said. "I just wanted to get on base. We wanted to make him work. He's a great pitcher and he could have come back. It brought up his pitch count."
The second inning is when the Rams took advantage. After two walks and a hit batsman, Appell hit a two-run single and he later scored on a wild pitch for a 3-0 lead.
"It was that one at-bat by Carmine," Island Trees coach Joe D'Auria said. "I think that wore him down. I usually keep him in, but we have an elimination game Monday. That was uncharacteristic of him. He just didn't have it. They have a way of wearing you down."
Jeannetti came out of the game after the second inning. Abruscato also pointed to Carmine's at-bat as a key point.
"That changes the whole game," Abruscato said. "We didn't have a big inning, but knew it couldn't be a complete game because of the pitch count. That's an outstanding at-bat. That was our approach. He's a stud on the mound and when you have someone like that, you want to make them work. We didn't chase."
Clarke added three runs in the fifth inning. Appell led off with a single and scored on a single by Joe Fusco. Carmine drove Fusco home with a double and pinch runner Jesse Russo stole third and scored on a throwing error to cap the scoring.