His Senators were locked in a 4-4 tie with IN-Tech Academy in a pivotal Bronx AA West Division game last week when Pete Nizzari had a decision to make.
As he looked down the American Studies bench for a pinch hitter with runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning — and the game on the line — Nizzari locked on a freshman to grab a bat and come through in the biggest moment of the game.
It turned out to be the perfect choice.
Dashiel Handler stroked a hard-hit grounder to left field allowing Sam Brody to cross the plate as the Senators rallied for a much-needed 5-4 victory over the Panthers. Just two days earlier, American Studies had defeated IN-Tech 12-1. The pair of victories upped the Senators record to 10-3, with just three games remaining.
“There was one out, so there wasn’t too much pressure,” Handler said. “All I wanted to do was the right thing, and I didn’t want to screw up. I know that it wasn’t the best hit that I’ve ever had, but I got the job done, and that’s what matters.”
Walk-off victories like this one are one of the things Nizzari says makes baseball great.
“You can never know what’s going to happen,” Nizzari said. “I pinch-hit a 14-year-old ninth-grader, and he came through for us.”
Before they could come away with the dramatic victory, the Senators first had to dig themselves out of a four-run hole IN-Tech established in the top of the first after a collection of errors by the Senators. But American Studies starting pitcher Damon Lawrence Jr. never lost faith in himself — or his team.
“They hit a few fastballs and I started to get away from myself,” Lawrence said. “It was a rough inning. I had to bounce back. We were down four, but I never thought we were out of it. Everyone in that dugout fights, so I knew I just had to hold them to no more scoring.”
Exiting the game in the sixth, Lawrence tallied seven strikeouts while allowing three walks and just four hits. The four runs were all unearned.
Shifting from his home at shortstop, team captain Julian Trebach then took the mound in relief. In just his second appearance on the hill this season, Trebach logged three strikeouts, one walk and one hit to pick up the win in relief.
Pitching “was pretty nerve-wracking,” Trebach said. “I knew that I had to get guys out, and I thankfully did that. I was ready to go as many innings as I needed to but I’m glad we shut the door in the seventh.”
It was junior Ari Wigder who provided the most help on the offensive side of the ball. Coming up just a home run shy of hitting for the cycle, Wigder went three-for-four at the plate with two RBIs and two runs scored.
“I’ve been seeing the ball pretty well,” Wigder said. “I got a couple of good pitches and I was able to put them in play and get good hits. They came up clutch for us in the end.”
With three games left in the regular season, the Senators trail only Evander (12-2) in the Bronx AA West standings. The Senators plan to close the season with more convincing victories on their way to securing that title.
“I can’t take any more (close games) because I might have a heart attack on the field,” Nizzari said. “But hey, we’re 10-3 now, and we have a good chance of taking the division.”