PURCHASE – Iona Prep has long been the premier CHSAA program in New Rochelle, while Salesian has played the role of the annoying little brother who never stood a chance when push came to shove. But no more.
The fourth-seeded Eagles opened the CHSAA AA Division Championships on Wednesday at Manhattanville College with a 2-1 walk-off win over their crosstown rival, pushing the fifth-seeded Gaels one loss away from the end of their season in the double-elimination tournament.
“These games mean a little more to us because we’re a team that’s trying to do something, and they’re a team that’s already been there,” Salesian center fielder Sammy Zambrana said. “We take it more to heart. We have to win these games.”
Both starting pitchers — Nicky Gennarelli for Salesian and Matt Mancino for Iona — were outstanding, with Mancino taking a no-hitter in the fourth inning and Gennarelli taking one into the fifth.
But a lead-off walk to Andrew Watson in the top of the seventh put the wheels in motion for the Gaels, with Watson stealing second and then advancing to third on Stephen Nigro’s sac bunt. He would score on a wild pitch to give Iona a 1-0 lead.
“I was a little mad about that because I had two strikes on him,” Gennarelli said of the walk to Watson. “Walks always come back to get you.”
The Eagles (17-5) struggled for six innings against Mancino, but with their backs against the wall, Brandon Bautista led off the bottom of the seventh with a single. A one-out walk to Anderson Lora put two men on, prompting Iona Prep coach Ryan Mahoney to pull Mancino and call on left-hander Lucas Maldonado to face the lefty-swinging Zambrana.
Zambrana worked a seven-pitch at-bat before blooping an RBI single to shallow right field that landed in fair territory by less than a foot.
“It’s a game-tying hit, so I’ll take anything — especially off of the lefty,” Zambrana said. “I’ll take anything at that point. He was tough.”
No. 9 hitter Jaison Gonzalez came up next and rolled a grounder to short, allowing Lora to beat the throw home and score the winning run.
“Right away I knew I had to put the ball in play to give my teammate a chance to score,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t want to pop anything up. I just wanted to hit the ball hard on the ground.”
Gennarelli struck out five to work around five walks, tossing a one-hitter on 108 pitches after throwing two innings in relief on Sunday. Mancino allowed three hits and two walks over 6. 2 innings and was charged with both runs.
Salesian will play No. 8 Monsignor Farrell on Thursday at Manhattanville at 4:30 p.m., while Iona Prep (17-5) will travel to St. John’s University to play top-seeded St. Joseph-by-the Sea at the same time.
“It says that we’re a tough team,” Gonzalez said of the comeback win. “A lot of people don’t believe in us. They say we’re just a little team from New Rochelle, but we’re proving that we’re a big team and we deserve to be here.”