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Notre Dame out of sync in state championship semi-final in Binghamton

Things really didn't go Notre Dame's way in what turned out to be the baseball team's final game of the season.

Nobody wanted it to end this way, with a 7-1 loss to Smithtown Christian in the Class D semi-final game for the state championship, but Coach Mike Rapone said he told his players to hold their heads high.

"I tried to joke with them that if I told you the first day of practice that, 'you know what, we're going to lose in the state semi's,' I think you might have signed up for it," Rapone said.

Starting pitcher Alec Covel agreed. Clearly pained by the loss, he said he still recognized the Fighting Irish accomplished a lot this year, more than they might have thought possible at the start of the season.

"It's been fun," Covel said, not at all sounding like it has been fun. "I'm going to tell my kids about it someday. It's something to look back to."

Covel clearly had a reason to be disappointed. The ace of the staff, and a big reason Notre Dame made it this far, Covel struggled with his control all afternoon.

He walked the first two batters he faced. Both would score, because of throwing errors, even as Covel recorded all three outs in the inning on Ks.

"I was battling the whole time, pitching from behind and it showed," Covel said.

After the top of the first, Covel went with a coach into the bullpen to throw more.

"I was working on a drill to get over my front side," Covel said. "The mound was flatter than usual and I couldn't get over my front side and I was leaving pitches up."

Catcher Andrew Mullen said he thought Smithtown's hitters did a good job of not letting Covel establish a rhythm.

"The took their time in there, like any good team would," Mullen said. "I think that shook him up and then after that, things really didn't go our way, so he couldn't get comfortable."

Mullen thought Smithtown's starter, Jack Palma, who threw a complete game, threw harder than pitchers Notre Dame has faced recently, but he wasn't unhittable.

In fact, Notre Dame put a lot of balls into play, just not too many of them were hit hard or turned into hits.

"Anything in the infield they would chew up and it was an out for them," Mullen said. "That definitely helped them."

Rapone said Palma wasn't at all overpowering.

"All he threw was a fastball and a change up, but he was keeping us off balance," Rapone said. "We only hit the ball hard but a few times, so you've got to give him credit. Whatever he was doing was working."

Even though Covel walked four, he struck out six and Rapone said he pitched well enough that Smithtown should not have been able to put seven runs on the board.

"If we made some plays behind him, it's a lot closer game," Rapone said. "But they're a good baseball team. They didn't make too many mistakes. They were patient at the plate. They didn't help us out with anything, and we threw the ball around a little bit, misplayed a ball in the outfield we probably should have caught, and that's what happens. When you get to this level, the team that executes better wins. They executed better, so they won."

A team that has been relaxed all year may have found it a little harder to get loose for such a big game, Rapone said.

"I was surprised that, as loose a group as this has been all year, they were a little tight before the game, and then they started playing that way," Rapone said. "I think if we could have gotten out of the first inning, as we probably should have, without giving up anything, maybe we would have relaxed a little bit."

Mullen agreed with Rapone's assessment.

"We were a little nervous coming into this," Mullen said. "It was a lot of pressure on us. We had been really relaxed to this point, but I think being in the final four finally caught up to us. I think a little bit of nerves got to us, and he (Palma) was a good pitcher."

In the final, Smithtown beat Hancock 7-3 to take the state's Class D title.

We'll have a slideshow of more photos available in the morning.

Notre Dame supporters, reminder, it would be a big help with the expense of this coverage if you joined The Batavian Club.

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