WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Kensico pitcher Gregory Palais took a deep breath, cleared his mind and focused on one thing in the sixth inning Thursday as Eastchester was threatening to tie the score and possibly win the game.
“I just pictured nobody was there, no fans and no noise,” said Palais, a seventh-grader-to-be at Valhalla Middle School. “I just made it me and Joe Pecora, our catcher.”
Palais worked out of a potentially dangerous situation as Kensico held off Eastchester, 3-2, in the losers bracket final of the District 20 Little League Baseball 11-year-old Championship at Gedney Field.
Kensico will play Harrison for the title at 4 p.m. Saturday at O’Rourke Field. Kensico, which lost to Harrison in the winners bracket final, will have to beat Harrison twice to win the title.
Eastchester had one run in with one out and runners on second and third, but Palais struck out the last two batters to secure the win.
“Once I got the first out of the inning, that helped to calm me down,” Palais said. “Anything could have happened there had we not got the first out.”
Palais relieved starter and winning pitcher Gavin Astrella, who went five innings and one batter into the sixth. Astrella allowed two runs on five hits and struck out seven.
When Astrella was replaced by Palais, the reliever had the full confidence in his teammate.
“Greg always throw strikes, so all of us knew he was going to throw strikes,” Astrella said.
Kensico turned in the defensive play of the game an inning earlier to cut down an Eastchester rally. In the fifth inning, a relay from center fielder Mike Ferrara to Astrella to Palais, who was catching, at the time, resulted in an out at the plate.
Kensico took a 2-0 lead in the third inning on its first hit of the game. Bryan Goodman doubled in Cameron Flynn and Mark Kennedy with two outs. In the fourth, Palais led off with a double and pinch runner Kennedy scored on an error.
Eastchester scored one run in the fourth. Joe Nasti led off with a double and pinch runner Christian Flamio scored on Matt Rinaldi’s ground out. Drew Walpole scored Eastchester’s run in the sixth on an error.
Eastchester pitchers Matt Rinaldi and Matt Milaccio combined on a four-hitter and struck out six.
“It is pretty exciting,” said Palais about playing for the district championship Saturday.
Eastchester 000 101 0 – 2 6 2
Kensico 002 100 – 3 4 2
RBI – E: Matt Rinaldi; K: Bryan Goodman 2. 2B – E: Joe Nasti; K: Gregory Palais 2, Bryan Goodman. WP – Gavin Astrella. LP – Matt Rinaldi. Save – Gregory Palais.