By BILLY HEYEN
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Two years ago, John Messina was part of Pittsford Sutherland’s postgame dogpile after the Knights won the 2017 Class A2 sectional title. But he had to run in from the side then to leap into the middle of the bunch.
Saturday, Messina was at the center, and bottom, of the pile.
“I never experienced it on the bottom, getting to throw the glove up and start the pile,” Messina said. “And that was a whole different experience. I loved every minute of it.”
The senior lefty threw a complete game to lead Sutherland to a 3-2 win over Eastridge in the Section V Class A2 final at Rochester Institute of Technology. Messina allowed four hits and worked out of a couple jams to hold the Lancers in check. That performance, along with timely hitting, gave Sutherland its 10th sectional baseball title since 2000, achieving the goal the Knights have every year, head coach Brandon DeRosa said.
“The whole team just came together, and we worked so hard, and I just knew we weren’t gonna lose this game to anybody,” Messina said.
Sutherland broke through first in the bottom of the second, when walks coupled with errors brought a run across. Eastridge answered immediately in the third, though, to tie the game at one.
In the bottom half of the third, the strange nature of baseball played out in full. Robert Nolan, batting right-handed in the bottom half of Sutherland’s order, has been hitting the ball hard in recent weeks. But it’s been going right at people, DeRosa said. And on top of that, who would expect a third inning at bat to decide a ball game?
But that’s baseball. Nolan turned on a ball to the left side. The senior thought he hit it directly to the third baseman, put his head down and sprinted for first. The ball, though, rolled past a diving third baseman, beyond a lunging shortstop, and into left field. Two runs would score on Nolan’s seeing-eye single. Not only did it break his streak of bad luck, but it turned into the game-deciding knock.
“I just had to do something, and we got that extra run across,” Nolan said. “At the end of the day, that’s what got us the win, so it was huge.”
— Billy Heyen (@Wheyen3) June 1, 2019
With a couple runs of cushion, Messina went to work. He allowed a lone hit in the fourth, then worked a 1-2-3 fifth. There was never the sense that Messina was overpowering the Eastridge hitters. Rather, he simply threw strikes and battled.
Earlier this season, Messina had to be shut down a couple weeks for his elbow to recover from an overuse injury. DeRosa figured all season it’d be his senior lefty getting the ball in the biggest game of the year. But Messina had to work his way back, building up strength enough to throw a few full outings before sectional time.
And even heading into the sixth inning, DeRosa had no doubts about Messina’s belonging on the mound. Eastridge was able to get a run in that frame, making it a one-run game. Sutherland would have a reliever ready. But if Messina could finish, he would.
“He competes. He’s a gamer,” DeRosa said of Messina. “We talk about all the time, senior year you’re gonna be the guy on the mound closing out the sectional championship.”
Eastridge moved the tying run to second with one out in the seventh, and Messina fell behind 3-0 to the Lancers’ nine-hitter, Avery Bowens. But three-straight called strikes got Messina his fifth punchout of the game and put the Knights an out away.
Two pitches later, the ball was in the air, then in a glove, then raised toward the sky in centerfield by Chris Pietropaoli. Messina threw his glove. And the Knights piled on.
“I saw it up in the air and knew Chris was under it,” Nolan replayed the scene aloud. “… I started slowly creeping into the mound, and as soon as he caught it, it was all over. We were dogpiling on top of John. We’ve got some big kids on the team, so he was hurting a little bit.”
A different hurt, though, than an arm injury. A good hurt. A championship hurt.
— Billy Heyen (@Wheyen3) June 1, 2019