Joe Vetrano took a sharp liner off his foot in the sixth inning on Saturday, a moment where Lakeland collectively held its breath as its prized pitching prospect hopped gingerly around the mound.
Vetrano had been brilliant up to that point, shutting out Byram Hills in the Section 1 Class A baseball championship. And with a rising pitch count and brightest of futures ahead of the 6-foot-3 lefty, it felt like many felt it was an appropriate time to take the sophomore star off the mound.
Not to Vetrano.
“I wasn’t coming out,” he said. “I was finishing this game.”
Vetrano labored a bit in the sixth inning, leading to a pair of Byram Hills runs, but locked down when needed, completing a gutty seven-inning effort and lifting Lakeland to a 3-2 win at Palisade Credit Union Park.
It was the first Section 1 title in eight years for Lakeland, which entered the playoffs as a No. 12 seed and losers of five of its final seven games in the regular season. But the Hornets tore through the playoffs, beating Harrison and Nyack in the opening rounds before knocking off No. 17 seed Brewster in the semis.
Lakeland scratched out a pair of runs in the first inning off Bobcats starter Ryan Steeg. Matt Schenck doubled with a man on and the run scored on an errant throw back into the infield. Schenck later scored on an Andrew Croce sac-fly.
Vetrano ducked in and out of trouble through the first two innings before showing command in the middle frames. Jason Green’s RBI triple in the fourth padded the lead.
Brandon Fonte finally got Byram Hills to break through. His liner off Vetrano in the sixth went for a single — the first clean hit off Vetrano in the game — and he later scored on an RBI double by Antonio Aversa. Gianluca Nelson followed with an RBI single before Vetrano got a fly-out to end the threat.
Vetrano came out for the seventh and put a man aboard with two outs before inducing a hard grounder up the middle that was snared. The flip to second ended the game.
Lakeland receives a bye in the opening round of the Class A state tournament and next plays in the regional final on Saturday. The Hornets face the winner of Section 9 Cornwall or Section 4 Union-Endicott. The game will be played at the home site of the winning team.