Ari Wigder couldn’t bear to take his American Studies uniform off for the final time. So he waited until he got home and had some quiet time in his room.
Pete Nizzari, American Studies’ 74-year-old coach, said the Senators excruciating 5-4 loss to Queens High School of Teaching made for a long and sleepless night.
Losing in the first round of the Public School Athletic League baseball playoffs is one thing. But hammering out 10 hits and piling up 11 walks — all while limiting the Tigers to just three hits and five bases-on-balls — only added to the Senators’ agony.
That, and seeing their once promising season come to a rather inglorious end.
It was a season which saw the Senators jump out to a 7-1 start led by the senior quartet of Wigder, Casey Press, Jack Friedman and Nick Bliss, there was optimism at American Studies that this had the makings of a special campaign.
“I knew the potential was there for a great season,” a disappointed Nizzari said. “I had a good team and I thought we were going to make a lot of noise.”
It looked as though that noise would start against the Tigers as the Senators took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth with Wigder in full command on the mound.
“Ari was sailing along at about 45 pitches going into the fifth, and he had struck out nine guys in the first four innings,” Nizzari said. “He was tremendous.”
But then the Senators defense began to betray them.
Three straight infield errors set the Tigers up with bases loaded an nobody out. That led to a three-run rally and a 3-2 Tigers lead. American Studies, with its back to the wall, took the lead again in the top of the seventh with a pair of runs. But the Tigers answered with one in their half of the seventh to tie it at 4, and it was off to extra innings.
After Friedman walked to open the eighth, Andy Kovesci blasted a double to deep left to put runners on second and third for the Senators, and a rally appeared to be in the making. But the next three Senators went down in order, and a golden opportunity was squandered.
“We have second and third with no one out and we don’t score,” Nizzari said.
“We had so many opportunities, but we just couldn’t get that timely hit.”
The Tigers then pushed across the winning run in their half of the inning, and just like that, the season was over for the Senators.
“The defense that plagued us throughout the year got us in the end,” said Wigder, who also had three hits and an RBI in his final game. “Ultimately, that killed us in the end.”
The Senators had 21 baserunners in the game, but were the victim of three double plays. Nizzari called his team “snakebit” as he tried to come to terms with the defeat.
“They didn’t hit one ball hard off of Ari,” Nizzari said. “They only had three hits. We had 10 hits with 11 walks. I don’t know how we lost that game. Even one of the umpires came up to me after the game and said, ‘I don’t know how you lost. You were the much better team.’”
While Nizzari plans on returning to coach the Senators next season, it was the end of the line for Wigder, Press, Friedman and Bliss, who compiled a combined 43-18 regular season mark in their four years, including a division title. It was a painful way to see their careers end, so they tried to make their final game last as long as they could.
“We talked after the game about how we’ll be missing the atmosphere, that competition, and fighting together,” Wigder said. “Then me and Casey talked a little later. We’ve been best friends for four years. But this was just a tough way to go out.”
The most difficult part for Wigder came away from the field when he had to take off his No. 18 for the final time.
“I didn’t take it off until I got home,” Wigder said. “My parents wanted to tell me how proud of me they were, and I got a lot of texts from friends. But once I tossed my phone away and locked myself in my room for a little bit, it was just sad.
“It was a fun chapter in my life, but every senior would tell you they would kill to play one more high school game.”