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American Studies wins nail-biter for recuperating coach

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John Auerbach was in the middle of his postgame talk when he stated the obvious about the absent head coach he was subbing in for, Pete Nizzari.

“It’s certainly not the same without him,” Auerbach said. “We’d all rather be with him than without him.”

Nizzari was forced to miss the Senators turn a laugher into a nail-biter over Stevenson due to a medical procedure on his eye. His return date is uncertain, but even confined to his home while he recuperates, Nizzari had to know how his team fared against Stevenson.

That’s when Auerbach’s phone rang.

“Speak of the devil,” Auerbach said as Nizzari’s name popped up on his phone. “Hi, Pete. We won.”

It was probably better that Auerbach didn’t get into specifics as it might have been too much for the always-animated Nizzari, playing havoc on his doctor’s orders to relax and let his eye heal.

But it did get interesting in that final inning for American Studies.

The Senators went in with a commanding 10-1 lead and with Damon Lawrence, the third of three American Studies pitchers, on the mound and ready to close things out. But Lawrence became the victim of some less-than-stellar infield defense. And after a few hits here and a few errors there, suddenly Stevenson was within three runs with runners on second and third with two out.

But Lawrence sealed the deal — and kept Nizzari’s blood pressure around normal levels — when he fanned Daniel Flores for the final out, allowing the Senators to hold on for a 10-7 win.

It was not typical Senators’ baseball, but an ugly win is far better than a pretty loss.

“It was sloppy, but they held on,” said Auerbach, who is now 1-0 as Senators’ head coach. “Luckily we had a big lead, and it held. We had enough of a cushion. But it happens, and a win is a win, and that’s all that matters.”

It had been a week since the Senators knocked off Evander 10-0 in an emotional win that avenged their only loss of the season. But playing Stevenson, a team from a different division — and without their boisterous head coach — there was certainly something missing for the Senators.

“It was definitely a lot quieter,” senior catcher Jack Friedman said. “We missed his voice, and I’m sure the fans missed his voice. But that being said, with the condition he’s in, it’s probably better he didn’t see the end of this game.”

The seventh-inning meltdown was due to some of the younger Senators playing out of position, senior first baseman Ari Wigder admitted.

“I think we threw some young guys out there at second, third and shortstop,” Wigder said. “They were all ninth or 10th graders. So there were some rookie mistakes, and they were getting a little nervous, especially as the score kind of narrowed. But ultimately Damon was able to throw strikes, pound the zone, and get us out of it.”

The seventh inning wasn’t the only struggle the Senators had to endure. There also was the marathon groundskeeping session they needed to perform to get the diamond into playing shape.

“We came out to the field and there were five-foot mountains of dirt everywhere, so we had to spend about two hours before the game raking all that down,” senior Casey Press said. “It was a lot or work.”

But the Senators made easy work of Stevenson early on, scoring three times in the first inning courtesy of two Stevenson errors and an RBI single by Dashiel Handler. They added three more runs in the second, with another Stevenson error plating a run, and Friedman and Press knocking in two others for a 6-0 lead.

The Senators responded to a Steven score in the fourth with two behind Brian Baek scoring from third on a wild pitch before Wigder’s RBI groundout scored Press to make it 8-1. American Studies then tacked on two more runs in the fifth for a 10-1 lead, holding on in that wild seventh inning for the win.

“We haven’t seen our team play like this in a while,” Friedman said. “But we know what we’re capable of.”

With three games to go before spring break, Wigder said the goal would be to lock up a playoff berth as soon as possible.

“Hopefully we can clinch the playoffs before the break,” Wigder said, “and come back afterwards with a little less stress.”

And that would make for a very happy Nizzari.

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