Everyone knows baseball can sometimes be a game of inches.
It sure turned out that way late Saturday afternoon as a red-hot Fox Lane team got an unfortunate reminder while playing in Lewisboro against the host John Jay Indians. A promising fifth-inning rally by the Foxes was thwarted by the call of an umpire that converted what would have been an Antonio Chousa double into a mere foul ball.
“It changed the complexion of the game,” Fox Lane head coach Matt Hillis would say later about the ruling on the sizzling shot off the bat of his senior outfielder that wound up down the left-field line, seemingly putting two runners in scoring position with no outs and the Foxes trailing by just a run.
Instead, though, Chousa had to return to the batter’s box and wound up flying out to deep center field. The Foxes were soon retired in the fifth without scoring and John Jay added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning en route to a 3-1 victory, snapping Fox Lane’s winning streak at six games.
“It’s hard to summarize this one, quite honestly,” said Hillis, whose team lost for just the second time in nine outings this season. “The errors were definitely an issue. The walks were an issue. In the first two innings, the first inning and a third actually, we had walked three guys and hit three guys. So certainly not the recipe for success.”
Facing an Indian team struggling with a 4-7 record at the start of the day, the Foxes had to like their chances of extending their early-season winning streak, especially since senior right-hander Joe Nuzzi, still unbeaten in his varsity pitching career, was getting the start. He came into the game already 2-0 this year with a dazzling 0.30 earned run average.
But shortly after Fox Lane stranded two runners in the top of the first inning, it became apparent Nuzzi didn’t have his normal command. He hit the first two batters he faced, induced Brett Paulsen to bounce into a double play, then walked Greg Patti. The John Jay threat ended, though, as Stephen Fisher fouled out to third.
In the bottom of the second, Nuzzi plunked his third Indian, leadoff batter Cole Borowitz. Two more walks, sandwiched around a strikeout, left the bases loaded and Hillis out of patience. John Alley took over on the mound for Nuzzi and immediately surrendered a sacrifice fly on a liner to left by Chris Orifici that gave John Jay an early 1-0 lead.
The Foxes tied the game in the top of the third as Chousa reached on a one-out walk, stole second and continued onto third on the catcher’s overthrow before scoring one batter later on Thomas O’Sullivan’s infield hit. Ethan Gabor followed by lining a single to left field, but Jay right-hander Ryan Bryggman avoided further trouble with a big strikeout.
John Jay scored what proved to be the winning run in the bottom of the third inning. Leadoff batter Paulsen singled past third, then moved to second base on a wild pickoff throw. He easily scored on a booming double to left by cleanup hitter Patti.
Both teams were retired in order in the fourth inning, but in the top of the fifth it appeared the Foxes were ready to pounce. Dean Massari reached on an error and then Chousa seemingly came through with the extra-base hit that would have had Fox Lane primed to take the lead. “It looked fair to me,” said Hillis. But the home-plate umpire disagreed and a Fox rally never happened because Chousa instead flied out, Massari was picked off first base and O’Sullivan’s long fly to left was caught up against the fence.
The Indians, who only managed two hits all afternoon, scored an unearned run in the bottom of the fifth to build a 3-1 lead. Joe Biancone led off with a walk, moved to second on a ground ball, then to third on another. He scored when Fisher’s grounder to third led to a wide throw to first base.
Bryggman finally relinquished the Jay pitching chores after scattering four hits in six innings.
“With that kid on the mound, John Jay Cross River will compete with anybody,” said an impressed Hillis. “He is a legit pitcher. They’re certainly not an under .500 team with him on the mound, that’s for sure.”
Biancone took over for the Indians to start the seventh and after two quick outs, both Massari and Chousa reached on walks, setting the stage for Fox Lane’s star catcher, Henry Davis, who entered the contest with 12 hits in 23 at-bats this season, along with a team-leading 15 RBIs.
“The two kids battled to get on base,” said Hillis, “and we’ll take our chances with Henry.”
But the game ended with Davis lofting a high fly to right-center field that was gobbled up by Borowitz. For the first time in three and a half weeks, the Foxes were left to ponder a defeat. According to Hillis, the team’s formula for success in the month of April went missing against the Indians.
“Well, it’s been the complete opposite of what you saw today,” he said. “Our pitchers have worked ahead of hitters the entire year and the balls we’ve hit hard have dropped, and today they didn’t.”