The Tigers are just two wins away from earning the school’s first ever state title, a journey that has already seen the team win its sectional championship and the emergence of a star sophomore who began the season on the JV squad.
That sophomore, pitcher Sam Einhorn, came up big again on Tuesday night, scattering seven hits in a complete-game shutout to help propel the Tigers out of the regional round and into the Class AA state tournament. Two wins and they become the undisputed best baseball team in New York.
On paper, the season is relatively short, roughly two months of games that begin when the air is still crisp with the last vestiges of winter and end when summer appears to have taken its customarily sweltering stranglehold. For the Tigers, where they are now certainly seemed a long way off when they first started practicing a few months ago.
“I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it as far as we did,” said senior second baseman Randy Delanoy. “I knew we were losing a lot of seniors and had only three returning starters.”
For some teams, the thought of starting over from scratch under those circumstances might be overwhelming. For the Tigers, at least in retrospect, it became a part of their modus operandi: Draw together to tear the league apart.
So far, it’s worked like a charm. Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Horseheads in the regional final at Union-Endicott High improved Kingston’s record to a robust 18-5, and bought them at least one more game of baseball before the season is over. That game, which will see the Tigers take on Shaker, is scheduled to take place on Saturday at 1 p.m. on the same Union-Endicott field where they turned in their regional gem, and if it’s all the same to you, they’d like to go for one more after that.
Though the team entered the season with a certain level of humility, it became clear fairly early on that they were going to be better than anyone thought.
“On April 6, we beat Valley Central 3-2 and from then on I knew when our hearts were in it we could play with the best of them,” said senior catcher Jimmy DeCicco. Delanoy agreed that the Valley Central game gave the team the understanding that they were capable of anything.
Tuesday’s game saw the Tigers firing on all cylinders, showcasing the combination of pitching-fielding-hitting that’s served them so well all year long. The team turned three double-plays against Horseheads, and made good use of timely hitting and smart baserunning to give them the edge.
Junior outfielder Zack Chilcott singled in the third inning, stole second base and then came home on a single by Jared Jensen, the Tigers’ ace pitcher who now with Einhorn is part of one of high school’s best starting tandem. Both pitchers are caught by DeCicco, who head coach Mike Groppuso is confident enough in to allow him to call pitches without direction.
DeCicco’s bat has proven just as important to the Tigers, and his RBI double in the top of the seventh and subsequent score on a single by Zack Short gave the team the confidence of having a bit of insurance as they closed it out.
Though his rise through the ranks and the poise he’s shown since being given his opportunity have been crucial to the Tigers’ success over the second half of the season and beyond, Einhorn has remained humble.
“It’s just great to be able to help out the team in whatever way it needs, especially when we’re having success like we are now,” he said. “It’s an honor to put on a Kingston uniform every time we go out there because it’s such a good sports program and we try to represent it as well as we possibly can.”
Chilcott said that while the team’s success might not have been something anyone could have predicted at the beginning of the year, each game has brought the team closer together than ever before.
“I knew we could do it, but actually getting there is unbelievable,” he said. “During the playoffs we all came together, offensively we started hitting well and our defense has been outstanding.”
As for what the final four might hold for the Tigers, Chilcott didn’t hesitate.
“As long as we play our game, we’re going to do what we need to do,” he said. “I think we have a very good chance.”
“Our chances are just as good as the three other teams that are in it,” he said. “If we play our game we are unbeatable.”
The fact that this is the first Tigers’ team to ever get this far doesn’t appear to be daunting, either.
“We are in uncharted waters,” DeCicco said. “To be the first team from Kingston to make it this far is indescribable. We’ve made it this far so why not go all the way? Why not us?”
Why not, indeed?