2013 45 Central

Long Island 4, Milwaukee 3

By Kerry Crowley, Special to MSBLNational.comAfter struggling at the plate all week, Terri Whitedesperately wanted a shot at redemption. With the game-winning run on second base in the bottom of the ninth inning, White finally got his chance.

The eighth place hitter eagerly swung at the first pitch he saw and poked a walk-off single just inside the right field foul line to give the Long Island Panthers a stunning 4-3 comeback victory over the Rock-Milwaukee Rangers.

“I was just lucky because I haven’t been hitting the ball hard all tournament,” White said. “But hey, this one dropped and I’m a team player, so whatever it takes to win.”

The Rangers took a 3-2 lead into the ninth on Saturday morning, but their title quest was denied when White capped off a two-run rally with a looping single off the end of his bat to send the Panthers home as champions.

“We’ve had guys playing together for 27 years,” Panthers manager Stuart Juarez said. “27 years together, this was definitely for those guys.”

The 45-and-over World Series contest was tight throughout the morning. Both teams scored in the fourth inning, and the 1-1 tie held until Panther shortstop Mike Zampino stole third base and scored on an ensuing wild pitch in the bottom of the sixth.

With starting pitcher Jay McAndrews dealing a gem, the 2-1 lead could have been enough for the Panthers to take the game. But the Rangers stormed back to take the lead on a controversial play in the top of the eighth.

Rangers’ shortstop Jerry Gambatese came to the plate with runners on second and third and one out. In a 2-2 count, Gambatese appeared to chase a breaking ball in the dirt that squirted away from the catcher. Gambatese took off for first believing that he was able to advance on a dropped strike three. The catcher, distracted for a moment by the batter, hesitated to retrieve the ball and by the time he did retrieve it two runs had scored.

Ironically, despite the batter running as if he had swung and missed, the umpire ruled that he did not offer and ordered him back to the batter’s box.

Trailing 3-2, Panthers manager Stuart Juarez said his team employed a never-say-die attitude heading into the bottom of the ninth.

“We never give up, that’s been our motto since day one,” Juarez said. “We play every inning just as hard as the first one.”

Juarez’s team took that motto to heart, and the Panthers loaded the bases to kick off the final frame. Right fielder Adrian Rios knocked in the game-tying run with a sacrifice fly to left center to knot the score up at three.

On the very next pitch, Terri White delivered the Panthers the moment they had been waiting for. White was ecstatic after the game, as teammates surrounded him with high fives and camera phones.

“We love it,” White said of the tournament. “We play all year, look forward to this trip all year. When we come out here, we have a blast. We feel like pros.”

On the other side, Rangers manager Terry Teske tried to understand how his team let this game slip away.

“We’ve been to the championship in three of the last four years, but we just haven’t been able to get it done,” Teske said.

The Rangers were three outs from carting home championship rings of their own, but they’ll have to wait for another go-around.

“This one hurts because I could taste it,” Teske said. “When we took the field in the ninth inning, I could taste the championship,”

The Panthers’ celebration flowed from the field to the parking lot, but along the way, none of the players wiped the smiles off of their faces. All 19 Panthers were equally elated, and that’s exactly how manager Stuart Juarez envisioned it.

“As a whole, I have 19 players and everybody contributed. That’s what makes it special.”