It was a strange location for the Long Island Baseball Association’s version of the Battle of Brooklyn, but Preller Field on Hillside Ave. in Queens served as the battlegrounds for the Mike Becker Division championship between two teams very familiar with each other.
On one end was the Brooklyn Bonnie Cougars, comprised of players from Bishop Ford, Xaverian and a number of PSAL squads. On the other was the Sayo Grays, almost exclusively made up of Xaverian players, with a few of the top returning Bishop Ford players sprinkled in.
The coaches of both teams, Herbert Cruz from the Bonnies and Ian Young of Sayo, are longtime friends and the players, clearly, were quite familiar with each other.
“I’ve known Herbie since we were kids,” said Young, an assistant varsity coach at Xaverian, said. “I grew up a Bonnie, I coached with the Bonnies for over 10 years. I’m very familiar with the organization, a quality organization.”
Perhaps that’s why the Sayo players and coaches didn’t celebrate on the field after a 5-2 victory, why the championship trophies were left in the cardboard box they arrived in.
“They were in our organization at one time, that whole team,” Cruz said. “These guys have been battling those guys for the past couple of years. We beat them in the beginning of the year and they got us when it counts.”
The friendly banter between the teams started well before the first pitch. Young placed a pair of new baseballs on home plate and Cruz quickly fired a barb.
“You couldn’t even take them out of the plastic?” he chirped.
The game also brought about some interesting head-to-head battles, especially since former Bishop Ford hurler Louie Mastrandrea was on the hill for the Bonnies.
“It’s fun,” Mastrandrea said. “Championship game or not, it’s nice once in a while to have some fun and play against your friends.”
That fun subsided in the fourth inning when former Falcons teammate Esteban Gomez blasted a two-run home run over the right field fence, putting Sayo in front, 2-1.
“Louie was struggling. He was throwing at least six or seven balls, so I was just focusing and waiting for my pitch,” Gomez said. “Luckily, I got it.”
The Grays doubled that lead in the fifth when Matt Molbury, a Bishop Ford rising senior, blooped a broken-bat two-run single to right.
“I caught Lou a couple of times, so I kind of knew what he was going to throw,” Molbury said.
The Bonnies threatened late, getting within two runs on Anderson Mateo’s RBI single to right that chased Sayo starter Kieran Monaghan. Reliever Louie Perez got the final two outs of the sixth, but struggled in the seventh, hitting the leadoff batter and following that with a walk.
Young called on the versatile Molbury, who he called “hands down our most valuable player,” to close the game out. Molbury took the hill, instantly induced a critical double play and then a groundout to second to end the game.
“I think the best feeling is that they’re a 16-and-under group winning an 18-and-under championship. That speaks a lot for these young men,” Young said. “While championships are great, our focus at Sayo is getting these kids into college and turning them into productive citizens.”
While there was no celebrating on the field, Bonnies catcher Melvin Rios figures there will be plenty of trash talking coming his way.
“You gotta hear them during the high-school season, bragging rights the rest of the year but it happens,” Rios said. “They came out here to win, we didn’t and they got the best of us.”
But there is a silver lining for Rios, a rising senior at FDR.
“You don’t really see them unless it’s an exhibition game,” Rios said of Sayo’s CHSAA players. “That’s a positive about being in a public school.”