‘Perfect ending’: Zapata, sixth-inning rally propel Poly Prep to win crown

Andrew Zapata enjoyed a storybook sophomore season, winning six of his seven starts, throwing five shutouts and tossing a complete-game, one-hitter in May 25’s New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association title game at Manhattanville College in Purchase. His most important contribution, however, in the 8-1 win over Berkeley Carroll had nothing to do with the lightning in his right arm.

With the Blue Devils trailing by a run entering the bottom of the sixth, the usually soft-spoken underclassman erupted. He began barking encouragement at teammates, demanding they start hitting immediately.

“I’ve never seen him get like that,” Poly Prep catcher Marcus Hernandez said. “It was surreal. It was a big moment.”

The outburst, indeed, paid off — Poly Prep (23-1) exploded for eight sixth-inning runs and sent 13 men to the plate. Junior Matt Caposio had two hits and four RBIs in the frame, freshman Rob Calabrese drove in the go-ahead run with a single and sophomore Philip Maldari scored twice.

“The sixth inning has been special to us all year in all the big games we won,” Poly Prep coach Matt Roventini said.

The Blue Devils seemed tight over the first 5-1/2 frames, committing three errors and stranding six base runners against Berkeley Carroll (16-5) freshman Ian Miller. They had second and third with no outs in the fourth, but failed to score when Hernandez bounced into a 6-4-3 double play. They loaded the bases again in the fifth, but Marley Randazzo flew to right.

Before the home sixth, the entire Poly Prep team met outside the dugout. Zapata uncharacteristically spoke, his voice rising to an octave his team had yet to see.

“I felt like the team needed a spark,” he said later. “I was trying to wake everyone up.”

Maldari started the rally with a hard-hit single past third, chasing Miller. In came outfielder Robb Paller, the Lions’ closer last year who is headed to Columbia in the fall but had pitched just four innings this year because of forearm stiffness. Without ace Joey Martinez, who broke his leg in a collision at the plate in the NYSAISAA opener, Paller was called upon and he struggled.

He buried a changeup with Maldari in motion, enabling him to reach third. Caposio, the junior third baseman, drove in the first run with a hot shot off first baseman Dan Schwartz, tying the game. Two batters later, Rob Calabrese followed with a run-scoring single, Joe Calabrese walked to drive in a run and Caposio put the hammer down with a three-run double to left.

“We weren’t in a panic mode,” he said. “We never stopped fighting.”

After the breakout frame, Zapata went out and completed his sterling effort, capping an unbelievable season that saw him beating the likes of powerhouses George Washington and Xaverian.

Zapata actually gave up a run on Wednesday – Jesse Chalfin came around to score in the fifth after reaching on an error, going to third on a passed ball and scoring on a fielder’s choice – but he didn’t give up anything else. He credited senior Joe Calabrese and Hernandez for keeping him composed after the run scored.

He allowed just four base runners in all, two on errors, one a strikeout and another Andrew Timko’s hard-hit infield single in the sixth.

“If he doesn’t keep it 1-0, [the sixth inning] doesn’t happen,” Roventini said. “Andrew is a horse. It’s hard to say this about a sophomore, but he’s a big-game pitcher.”

With his continued brilliance and the lineup waking up just in time, the Blue Devils had the happy ending they sought after losing the New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association final each of the last two years.

“It was a perfect ending,” Hernandez said. “It felt phenomenal. From the beginning of the year this was our goal.”

Zapata still has two more years left before he leaves Poly Prep, two years to win two more New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association titles and build on the brilliance he established this season. Roventini talked about his work ethic making him so advanced, how he’ll probably be lifting weights Wednesday night. But for the moment, he didn’t want to think about the future.

“This is something I’ll never forget,” Zapata said. “I couldn’t have dreamed of a better season.”

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