Route 2 Blue Sox’s Paone delivers pain for Titans

By DN WRITING STAFF | August 6, 2022

Jack Finch of the Route 2 Blue Sox looks like he has a plan against the L.I. Titans.

By Joe Hofmann

The Long Island Titans had the tying run on base in the seventh inning, the go-ahead run at the plate, their fans amped up, and a tidal wave of momentum building against the Route 2 Blue Sox.

But then John Paone came on in relief.

Good night, everyone. Please drive home safely.

From the moment the righty came in to warm up, whatever energy the Titans had built up began to wither away and vanish.

The smoke-throwing Paone struck out Aiden Walsh on a low-and-away slider that completely disappeared to end the game.

The Blue Sox hung on for a 5-3 victory in a 17-18U Blue Chip Showcase game at Diamond Nation.

“We knew he’d get it done,” teammate Ben Valente said.

The Titans had two runners on and appeared ready to take the lead with two outs in the seventh.

Enter Paone, throws mid-80s gas. It was immediate when he was making his warmup tosses to catcher Vince Libretta that he was a different breed. His first warmup pitch lit up the gun at 86 MPH. That was a stark contrast to what the Titans had been hitting against for almost the entire game. Paone’s three teammates were throwing in the mid-70s throughout.

Night and day.

Paone is a sophomore at Lawrence Academy (Groton, Ma.) and has already received looks and offers from Division 1 schools. He is coming back from an arm injury and threw two innings earlier in the week at Diamond Nation.

There was nothing wrong with the way he threw for that one batter he needed to get.

“He’s very reliable,” Valente said. “He just gets it done.”

The Blue Sox had used three different pitchers to make their way to the seventh with a 5-2 lead.

The third of those pitchers was Antonio Zermani, who came on in relief of reliever Ryan Hildebergh to start the fifth, walked two, but then got out of it by inducing a 6-4-3 double play.

In the sixth, he retired the Titans 1-2-3 but then ran into trouble in the seventh. He allowed a Ranciel Mateo single and struck out Alex Briganti but walked Justin Rexach. Zermani fanned Mike Corillo for the second out but then gave up an RBI single to leadoff man Jack McDonald.

Coach Anthony Meo went out to the mound and, with Paone in his back pocket, brought him in to get the final out.

Antonio Zermani of the Blue Sox delivers a pitch to L.I. Titans batter Charlie Centeno in Blue Chip Prospects on Friday.

The right-handed hitting Walsh got around on Paone’s first pitch and ripped it foul up the third base line for strike one. Paone went deeper into his arsenal and threw a slider that dove off the plate and Walsh swung way over it. Walsh took the next pitch — a fastball in the dirt — but couldn’t make contact on the final pitch of the game to end it.

“He always gets us excited when he pitches, but he is also a great teammate,” Valente said of Paone. “He is not self-centered or anything like that.”

The Blue Sox took the lead for good in the bottom of the first, scoring three runs off losing pitcher Jake Barber.

Colin Flynn reached on an infield hit to lead off, stole second, and then came around on Seamus Condon’s single to right. Valente and Cam Desmond walked to load the bases before Jaden Velis hit into a 6-4-3 double play, scoring Condon.

Liam Kineen then delivered a single to right to score Valente to make it 3-0.

The Titans answered with two runs off starter Jack Sweeney. Dan Lambertson doubled and scored on Brian Birkl’s base hit. Birkl took second on the throw home and Briganti brought him in with an RBI single.

But that was as close as the Titans would get.

In the third, Desmond tripled to the fence in left center and scored on Velis’ single to left.

In the fourth, the Blue Sox added on when Jay Voica walked to lead off, stole second and third, and scored on Zermani’s sac fly for a 5-2 bulge.

“We came together as a team,” Valente said. “We’d been struggling giving up first-inning runs. Getting the lead early in the game was comforting.

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