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RKA tops American Studies, grabs No. 8 seed in playoffs

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There was a time this season when Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy baseball coach John Reingold wasn’t sure what he had.

His team was without a home field due to ongoing renovations at Seton Park, where finding open spaces to practice was at times very difficult. And his Tigers were holding a 4-3 record through the early part of the season before the more challenging games showed up on their schedule.

“We were a struggling baseball team playing just awful baseball,’ Reingold said. “Our wins were against teams like Columbus and IN-Tech. Then we had a walk-off (victory) versus Evander, and then we beat a good Bathgate team. They were the champs last year.”

And now you can add a very good American Studies team to that list.

RKA got an outstanding pitching performance from Richie Gonzalez, just enough offense, and a gutsy relief outing from sophomore Jacob Schmieder, surviving a tense seventh inning as the Tigers knocked off the Senators 3-2 at Lehman College. The win was the seventh straight for RKA, running its record to 11-3.

These Tigers are struggling no more.

“We’re playing good team ball right now. We have no flashy players,” Reingold said of senior Uylsses Luciano and junior Stiven Mendez.

“We’re grinders. We’ve probably won four or five one-run games this season.”

This contest was tight throughout as RKA squeezed out two runs in the top of the first off American Studies starter Brian Baek on RBI base hits from Schmieder and Richard Thomas.

It remained that way through six innings as Gonzalez was in complete command. The junior right-hander worked 5-1/3 innings and allowed just three hits while striking out seven. He was lifted for Schmieder in the sixth with American Studies runners on first and second.

But Schmieder struck out Jordan Ball and then got Baek to pop to second to end the threat. RKA added a run in the top of the sixth on an RBI double by Gonzalez, and the Tigers headed into the last inning up 3-0. But then the Senators mounted their comeback attempt.

Caleb Auerbach opened the inning with a walk, and one out later, Casey Press reached on an infield single with Auerbach taking third. After Damon Lawrence flied out, RKA was one out away from the win. But Ari Wigder walked to load the bases before Jack Friedman was hit by a pitch to force in a run to make it a 3-1 game.

A walk to Andy Kovesci allowed Press to score from third, and suddenly it was a one-run game with the bases still loaded for American Studies. But Schmieder struck out Ball to end the Senators’ threat, and the game.

“I wanted to see what the sophomore could do,” Reingold said of Schmieder.

“That was a big spot for the sophomore. A huge spot for him.”

But Gonzalez was the story for RKA, allowing just four base runners through the first five innings.

“He looked real good,” Reingold said. “He had good command, good rhythm and good tempo. You can see when he’s on.”

Luciano, RKA’s senior catcher and captain, had the best seat in the house for Gonzalez’ performance.

“It was a phenomenal job,” Luciano said. “That was the best he’s thrown all year, and I think he’s going to carry that over into the playoffs.”

After concluding the regular season with a win over Bronx Law to finish 12-3, the Tigers landed the No. 8 seed in the Public School Athletic League playoffs and were scheduled to play host to No. 25 Alfred E. Smith on May 21.

On the other side of the field were the Senators, who looked like a surefire title contender early on, but lost four of their last five games to close the regular season at 8-6. The Senators landed the No. 22 seed and were set to play on the road at No. 8 Queens High School of Teaching on May 21.

Despite their struggles of late, Friedman — American Studies’ senior catcher — thinks there is still a lot left in the tank for these Senators now that the playoffs are beginning.

“We’ve had some tough losses, but we know we’re a good team and that’s the message we gave in the (postgame) speech,” Friedman said. “We talked about it being playoff time, and that’s what matters. That’s what we’ve been playing for.

“We know we’re a good team. The seeding might not show that, but we have confidence going in that we can beat any team.”

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