Saunders stuns Pelham with walkoff win
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PELHAM MANOR, N.Y. – The last time Saunders and Pelham faced off, it was a rough game for the Blue Devils. Saunders was no-hit by the Pelicans in a lopsided loss back on April 23 so the Blue Devils were looking for a form of redemption in the rematch on Saturday afternoon.
“Last game we were flat,” Saunders’ Louis D’Ariano said. “Today was different. Everyone gave it their all. We wanted to bounce back and show that we were better than that first game; we weren’t the same team that they (no-hit).”
Saunders certainly proved it, defeating Pelham 5-4 in dramatic, comeback fashion. D’Ariano and teammate Jonathan Aquino were the heroes of the day with Aquino hitting a crucial two-out, two RBI double to tie and take the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning and D’Ariano then hitting a walk-off RBI double to win the game in the bottom of the seventh.
“This was a game that we needed and it’s going to propel us into the sectionals,” said Saunders coach Josh Cuozzo. “(Jonathan and Louis) have been doing it all year. Jonathan started the season out on fire, he was one of our top hitters and he’s been consistent. Louis is definitely one of the team MVPs for us. Everything you ask of these guys, in every situation, they always come through. You saw that today.”
Pelham started off the game on fire and quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning, but the Blue Devils refused to quit. Mike Grascia drove in Saunders’ first run of the game in the fourth inning after Jacob Diaz broke up Pelham’s no-hitter just a few at-bats before. The score remained the same until the sixth inning when Aquino’s big hit would change the momentum of the game.
Grascia stepped up big again for the Blue Devils to start the rally, driving in an RBI with two outs to pull Saunders within one run. Matt Mojica then reached base on a single to put a man on first and third, setting up Aquino for the clutch situation that every great player dreams of.
Aquino responded with a deep shot over the right fielder’s head to drive in Grascia and Mojica and take the lead away from the Pelicans.
“I was just trying to get the ball in play,” Aquino said. “I’ve been in a little bit of a slump and I really wanted to bounce back. That was the perfect way to do it.”
Pelham would show why they will grab one of the top seeds for the upcoming playoffs though, battling back to tie it in the top of the seventh. The Pelicans loaded the bases and Dylan Tuttle drove in Spike Manning on a fielder’s choice to tie the game.
However, Pelham was unable to get another run out of the inning; something that Pelicans’ coach Brian Leighton says is a major problem.
“I feel like we just leave too many guys on base the whole game,” Leighton said. “We don’t put teams away when we have opportunities to end the game. We let them hang around and hang around and eventually, it comes back to bite us. Defensively we made a couple of mistakes, that kind of hurt us, but Saunders just executed and we weren’t able to drive the runs in.”
In the bottom of the inning, Diaz drew a walk and then stole second base, setting up D’Ariano’s heroic hit. D’Ariano drove a fastball to right-center field, sending the Blue Devils into celebration.
“This win feels wonderful,” D’Ariano said. “We have that never-give-up attitude; this isn’t the only time we came back to win a game late… But Jonathan came up big when we really needed it. He came up real big and carried us; gave us the boost we needed it. He gave us a shot to win the game.”
Grascia was 2-for-2 with two RBIs in the win while Diaz was 1-for-2 from the plate. Starting pitcher John Zamora threw six innings and gave up five hits and three unearned runs while D’Ariano picked up the win, pitching in the seventh inning.
Pelham’s David Wright had two RBIs while Manning was 2-for-2 from the plate. Joe Bitteto also had an RBI and Chris Barnett threw a complete game.
The Saunders win will have an effect on the upcoming playoff seedings which will be released on Monday. Both teams should be affected, but with the momentum of the victory, the Blue Devils believe that anything can happen.
“We expect to at least win one sectional game,” Aquino said. “We’re very motivated and I think we’ll do very well. Our main goal is to do well in the sectionals; anything can happen.”