High School Beat
BCS Lions 'Past-Perfect' as state tournament approaches
Sheepshead Bay native and NFL coaching icon Vince Lombardi knew all too well that perfection was fleeting. But the pursuit of it, he always promised his team, would be quite fulfilling, not only on the gridiron, but in their everyday lives.
“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence,” the winner of a record five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls told his players.
With his team having captured the ACIS/PSAA Alliance Baseball Championship with Tuesday afternoon’s 4-0 victory over Long Island Lutheran at Coney Island’s MCU Park, Berkeley Carroll coach Walter Paller and his still-undefeated Lions are set to embark on the final leg of what has been a long, arduous quest for the Park Slope school’s second New York State Independent Schools title, and first since 2009.
Along with that lofty achievement, of course, would come an unblemished regular-season and playoff record.
But according to Paller, the Lions (19-0 including the postseason) aren’t getting caught up in the recent past, as it only serves as prologue to what they hope will be a fitting final chapter.
“We’ve stared that down in the mirror. We’ve talked about it,” Paller told the Eagle on Wednesday morning after watching junior staff ace Ian Miller toss his latest gem and Amherst-bound senior outfielder Anthony Spina deliver what proved to be a game-breaking two-run double that two-hopped the center field wall in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s title game win.
“We realize that undefeated or not, it’s one and done now,” the long-time coach, who has led the Lions to 10 tournament crowns and 15 regular-season titles, conceded when asked about the potential pressure of completing a pefect campaign. “The regular season is over. If we get the one seed [in the NYSAISS Tournament], no matter what happens, our guys have done a tremendous job. If we lose a game in NYSAISS, that’s a separate thing. But to show up every day during the course of about three months and play as well as we have, no one can take that away.”
No one was going to wrest Tuesday’s contest from Miller and his teammates. The third-year hurler yielded only one hit while striking out eight in his complete-game mound masterpiece after picking up the win in relief during last year’s ACIS/PSAA Final at the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.
The Lions moved in front for good on Chris Baumann’s RBI single in the second inning, but couldn’t come close to breathing easy until Spina’s booming two-base hit highlighted a three-run fifth.
“It was sweet,” Spina said, one day removed from celebrating his second straight title on Surf Avenue. “I know everyone’s been working really hard and it’s nice to come together and win an important game. It was really nice to give Miller those extra two runs.”
Catcher Yanai Feldman, whom Paller describes as “such a smart player”, capped the scoring with an acrobatic squeeze bunt during which he leaned across the plate and nearly went down to a knee to make contact.
“Spectacular play,” Paller noted. “That’s Berkeley Carroll baseball. Finding a way to win.”
Still awaiting their state tournament seeding, and more importantly, their first-round matchup, the Lions will try to get some well-earned rest, with an eye on remaining sharp, before Sunday’s NYSAISS opener.
“Stage one is over,” Paller admitted. “There’s a connection [with the perfect regular season], but there’s also some disconnect. We’re thrilled to be champions. Now we have some tough stuff ahead.”
“I think it was nice winning [Monday], but what everyone is focusing on is winning NYSAISS,” added Spina, whom Paller called one of the best all-around players he’s ever coached. “We’re a hungry bunch of kids and really focused on doing what we have to do to get that done. For the most part, we’re trying to go out with a bang.”
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