Heading into the Section 9 tournament, members of the Spackenkill High School baseball team can be called contenders or hopefuls.
There’s already one title befitting the Spartans: champions.
Spackenkill won the Mid-Hudson Athletic League tournament on Saturday with its 2-1 victory over Franklin D. Roosevelt in the final, bringing the championship trophy back to the Town of Poughkeepsie after reaching the title game for the third time in as many years.
“We played two really competitive games, and I thought all four teams were real good,” said head coach Don Neise, whose Spartans (19-2) topped Rhinebeck, 5-2, in a semifinal earlier in the day; Hyde Park’s Presidents beat Highland, 12-4, in the other semifinal at Stissing Mountain High School. “We did a nice job, battling for two games. It gives us a lot of confidence going into sectionals.”
Both of Spackenkill’s victories were of the come-from-behind variety.
After the Hawks (12-6) took a 2-1 lead in the semifinal round, Spackenkill scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take the lead.
With his team trailing 1-0 in the championship game after Alex Marinelli’s sacrifice fly in the top of the second scored Chris Osterman, Brian Zeoli stepped to the plate and battled Roosevelt starter Nick Rand in the fourth.
Pitch after pitch, Zeoli turned away Rand’s offerings, fouling back a handful of his best stuff — fastballs, breaking balls and the like — as the Presidents looked to erase the two runners on base.
Zeoli’s persistence paid off.
Batting from the No. 8 position, Zeoli laced a single past first base, his line drive landing just inches inside the right-field chalk, to score Billy Winnis and Dan LaGasse with the only runs Spackenkill needed.
“I saw about 10 pitches, and I finally had something to do with it,” Zeoli said. “I just poked it over the first baseman’s head, so I’m glad it landed and things went well.”
Seemingly bolstered by the lead, Winnis took care of everything else on the mound.
On the way to the complete-game victory, Spackenkill’s starter threw just six pitches in each of the next two innings, before pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh to seal the win.
“I always feel confident in my defense, so I’m never afraid to throw strikes,” said Winnis, who scattered three hits while striking out three Presidents.
“Them swinging at it and our fielders getting it done, that made it even better.”
Despite the loss, Roosevelt head coach Kory VanZandt said he appreciated the way his team never gave up, even bringing the tying run to within 90 feet of home plate before Winnis shut the door.
“I’m real proud of these guys,” the coach said. “This is a goal of ours every season, and this senior class that I have is a great group of guys — it’s a great team, all the way around.
“I’m proud of the way we fought; we fought down to the last out. It just didn’t happen. The ball bounces differently down that line, it’s a different game.”
While the Spartans appreciate the MHAL title — Winnis said it was Spackenkill’s first such league championship “in 20-plus years” — they said with the regular season now over, their attention moves toward the Section 9 tournament.
“Everybody is 0-0, and we have to take each game and play consistent baseball and go from there,” said Neise, who guided Spackenkill to the last two Section 9 Class B titles. “First game, we have to go in and play hard and see what happens.”