Underdog and undermanned Lions battle, but fall short

Berkeley Carroll had a freshman on the mound (Ian Miller) and a freshman behind the plate (Yanai Feldman). Its cleanup hitter and second baseman (Anthony Spina) was a sophomore, as was one of its top starters. Its ace, catcher and third-place hitter (Joey Martinez) was laid up in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery on his broken right leg.

So when coach Walter Paller said he left the New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association title game on May 25 feeling like a winner when his team actually was on the wrong side of an 8-1 loss to Poly Prep, it was understandable.

“We’re not in the moral victory business, but [comparing the two programs] is apples and oranges,” he said of the Blue Devils (23-1), who are ranked first in New York City by The Post and ranked nationally as well. “We have 20 kids in our school playing baseball. We don’t have a JV team. … I’m really proud of my guys and we’re looking forward to next year.”

Yet, for 5-1/2 innings, Paller’s Lions looked to be working the same magic it wielded two years ago in shocking Poly Prep in the New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association final. It pushed across a run in the fifth against sensational sophomore Andrew Zapata – just the fourth run the elite right-hander has let up all year – and Miller was finding ways to ring up zeroes.

He worked around trouble in the fourth by getting Poly Prep catcher Marcus Hernandez to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded. In the fifth, the bases loaded again, he jammed Marley Randazzo, inducing a weak fly ball to right.

“He threw one hell of a game,” Poly Prep third baseman Matt Caposio said. “We were saying on the bench this kid is gonna get rattled, he’s only a freshman. But he never lost his composure.”

Miller fanned four in 5-plus innings of work and allowed four hits and one walk, all this with a fastball Paller estimated didn’t break 75 mph. But he worked in and out, up and down, took some off, added on and spotted his changeup and breaking ball.

“If Ian gets stronger and ever gets his fastball into the 80’s, he can be like their guy over there,” Walter Paller said, referring to Zapata. “He’s figured out the pitching part. He needs the stuff part.”

After allowing a leadoff single to Philip Maldari to start the sixth, Paller pulled Miller in favor of his son, Columbia-bound outfielder Robb Paller. He was the closer last year, but was limited to just four innings this year because of forearm soreness. But without Martinez, he had no other option.

Robb Paller didn’t have it, advancing Maldari to third with a wild pitch. Matt Caposio broke through with a run-scoring single off first baseman Dan Schwartz, two batters later Rob Calabrese drove in the go-ahead run with a single and Robb Paller would force two more runs in with a walk and wild pitch. Sophomore Jacob Udewitz came on and was tagged for a three-run double by Caposio, blowing the nail-biter wide open.

“He told me he could give me three innings and I’m still waiting for a third out,” Walter Paller joked of his son. “He’s not a pitcher and I’m hoping he doesn’t have to pitch again.”

After the trophy and medal presentation, Berkeley Carroll (16-5) met for close to a half hour in front of its dugout. The Lions talked about their season and its many accomplishments – another undefeated regular season in the ACIS/PSAA Alliance, a second trip to the New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletic Association title game and nearly a second state title in three years – and what the returning players need to do to get back to this exact point.

Coach Walter Paller said he felt like a winner leaving Purchase. His team was an underdog against Poly, which had beaten PSAL powerhouse George Washington, Catholic powers St. Joseph by the Sea, Monsignor Farrell and Xaverian, and ran through the Ivy Prep League without a scratch.

It was without Martinez, its second best player behind his son and went with an all-freshmen battery.

“We took the No. 1 team in New York City to the edge,” he said, “and we just didn’t have enough.”

More from Around New York