“It’s not like I’m playing the role of Bruce Springsteen and reliving ‘Glory Days,’” said David Lorette, as a conversation starts about his baseball days at Bethlehem Central.
The Glenmont native invokes the name of New Jersey’s favorite son, along with a reference to one of his many hits off “Born in the U.S.A.” The song starts with the scene of two high school friends bumping into one another outside a bar, one of which a baseball player whose star fizzled out when he left school. The two walk back in to catch up, but the old ballplayer who once “could throw that speedball by you” can only talk about the “Glory Days.”
Like the protagonist in Springsteen’s story, Lorette’s playing days are done. But, the 42-year-old has moved on, having married, two children, and a successful career as an attorney in New Jersey.
“Sometimes as I’m playing ball with the girls in the backyard,” said Lorette, “ I’ll share with them, ‘You know, your dad played ball in high school.’ And, they say, ‘Yeah, yeah, Dad.’ And, then I will say, ‘Yeah, and we played in the state championship, and almost won it all.’”
Lorette was a junior when he made Bethlehem Central’s varsity team in 1990. It was a squad that had won three-consecutive Gold Division titles in the Suburban Council. But, that team in particular carried even higher expectations.
“The teams that were ahead of them were good,” said Ken Hodge, Bethlehem Central’s head coach that year. “[The 1990 team] was a team I thought could go a long ways. And, I think it ended up in the end … one of the best teams to ever play at Bethlehem Central.”
A top the mound stood the four pitchers representing Bethlehem Central’s pitching corps for the upcoming season. Shoulder to shoulder, each with a baseball in his throwing hand, gestured towards a photographer who was inspired by the Atlanta Braves “Four Aces” of that year. Instead of names like Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine and Avery, it was Jamie Mizener, Alex Hackman, Kevin Keparutis and Scott Fish. Each just high school kids playing amateur baseball, but the expectations placed upon the Eagles was just as high. Every school in the Suburban Council would envy having only one of those arms on their staff. Coach Hodge had four.
“I remember thinking that this team was down to the point where they should win,” said Matt Quatraro, the team’s starting catcher. “With a lot of the key players being seniors – Scott Hodge, Keparutis, Alex Hackman, Jamie Mizener – I thought all the pieces were in place to be really good that year.”
Mizener, Hackman and Keparutis where just three of six seniors returning from last year’s squad. Other starters included third baseman Al Greenhalgh, middle infielder Craig Weinert and outfielder Scott Hodge.
Hodge was approaching his sixth year as Bethlehem Central’s head coach. Despite the accolades earned by his team in earlier years, he didn’t see any one individual player standing out as a star. He recalled them all as good athletes.
His son, Scott was named to the all-area second team last year. Mizener, at 8-1 and a 1.61 ERA, was named to the all-area team. And, Quatraro, despite this being his first year on the varsity squad, had already started garnering interest from major league scouts at the age of 15.
The team bolted out to a 2-0 record after a couple of non-league games. In a 3-2 win over Gloversville, Mizener gave up just three hits and struck out eight, in what would be a signature stat line for him throughout the year. The Eagles followed that with a 15-2 offensive barrage against Ravena. Despite the impressive stats, Hodge walked away impressed with the defense.
“I was looking to see good fielding, and I saw it,” Hodge told The Spotlight that week. “Our defense is much farther ahead than I expected it to be at this point.”
There were few question marks for the coach. His pitching staff was established before the season began. Mizener and Hackman were the primary starters. Keparutis was a reliever. Fish only a junior, had to work his way in through non-league games.
“Mizener and Hackman were always around the plate,” said Hodge.” They didn’t have overwhelming velocity. They had good stuff, good off-speed. They were crafty lefties that threw in the low 80s with a lot of movement on the ball. The one thing about them, which was a huge asset, is that no one could run on them. They picked more people off base. No one could go on them, and even if they had a jump, Quatraro was a decent catcher.”
The ace out of the bullpen was Keparutis.
“Radar guns weren’t huge back then,” said the coach. “But, Keparutis was probably around 90. Tough, tough velocity. I mean, 6’5”, 215 [pounds] coming at you is tough.”
As April came to an end, Bethlehem Central stood at 5-1 and already held lone possession of first place in the Gold Division. Mizener owned four of those wins. And, in a non-league game, Fish impressed his coach with a five-hit shutout against Gloversville.
The momentum carried them through to the end of May, as they clinched the Gold Division for a fourth year with a 12-3 league record. The regular season closed out with Mizener leaving a game early, and Weinert pulling a hamstring as the team fell 8-0 to Shaker. They nearly slipped against Guilderland, when they fell behind 6-0, before their bats woke up. Keparutis and Matt Dennin each had three hits. Quatraro and Greenhalgh had two with runs batted in.
The natural wear and tear on the players was expected, but shortly before Sectionals, Hodge was left with an unexpected decision. Two of his players violated training rules. Greenhalgh and Keparutis were scratched from the team.
“That was a big blow,” recalled Quatraro. “Al was our third baseman. And, obviously Kevin. That one hurt a lot, because of the fact that we played in that double-header for the States. I don’t know if they still do it that way, but they had the playoffs start in the morning. … [Having Keparutis] would have been a huge help.”
Bethlehem’s four aces was down to three.
The Smithtown East Indians stormed into Sectionals on a shutout victory over Lindenhurst. Sophomore John Forneiro tossed a no-hitter in the 3-0 win. But, his team was best known for the hitting clinic they’d been conducting late in the season.
East Islip fell victim in the best of three series to determine the Suffolk Class A championship. In the first game, Smithtown East’s Joe Raineri blasted a leadoff home run in the visitor’s half of the first. Anthony Campagna followed suit in the second, and the offense barrage continued with a pace of 22 hits for an easy 16-6 win. Steve Maltagliati, East Islip’s undefeated ace pitcher was able to halve their offensive output in the second game, but suffered an 8-2 loss to end the series.
Farmingdale also had an undefeated pitcher in Steve Restivo, before toeing the slab against the Indians the following week. In four innings of work, he yielded 11 runs off of 10 hits. “They crushed me,” Restivo told Newsday after his team fell to Smithtown 12-5. “Everything I threw they hit.”
When Smithtown East rolled into Little Falls, it was their second trip to the State Finals in three years. That first game, they lost 5-4 to Orchard Park. But, on this go around, people doubted anyone could stop them.
“I remember feeling every player on that team was gigantic,” said Lorette. “How do they breed them guys down there?”
Bethlehem Central took to the plate against Forneiro in the visitor’s half of the first and was able to scrape together a run to jump ahead 1-0. As the Eagles took to the field, Mizener was the pitcher tasked with holding Smithtown down. It was Mizener’s second appearance in one day.
“A lot of people didn’t know that Mizener started out the year with a sore hip,” said Hodge. “He needed rest. We were playing Jamestown in Herkimer. It was a close game. They were a big, athletic team. They came in with shirts on saying, “Undefeated. Unscored Upon” in football. We knew they were going to be tough.”
Despite their intimidation tactics, Hackman kept Jamestown from making good contact on the ball. In four innings, he was in the midst of a shutout. Until the clouds opened up and it started to rain.
“It was controversial whether they were going to finish the game,” recalled Hodge. “After a certain time it was going to be official. They [continued] the game an hour and 15 minutes later, an hour and a half later. And, Alex had stiffened up. So, I had to throw Mizener in the game, because we were only up three to nothing. Mizener finished the last two innings up.”
Bethlehem Central sent Jamestown home with a 5-0 loss, only to pack up quickly to travel north to Little Falls. Going into the final game, the Eagles depth in pitching looked sparse. Hackman was done and Mizener with two innings logged, leaving Hodge with Fish and senior Rob Kells out of the pen. Nevertheless, Mizener was the ace of the staff, and the clear choice to start the final. “We had to go right from there to Little Falls, and Jamie came up and he said he wasn’t right,” said Hodge. “He wasn’t 100 percent. He said maybe 90 percent.”
Raineri was locked in on Mizener’s first offering, and liked what he saw. “I remember that pitch, actually,” said Quatraro. “It was really low, almost on the ground.” He hit it to center, which is the shallowest part of that park.”
Smithtown’s brawn continued to emerge in the final. The Indians jumped to a 6-3 lead in the fourth off a two-run shot from outfielder Tom Scioscia. The senior was one of two players who played against Orchard Park two years before. “It made me that much more hungry,” he would tell Newsday after the game.
Bethlehem battled back, scoring two in the fifth to make the game 6-5. And, that’s how the game stood until the home half of the sixth inning, when Smithtown came to the plate. Fish was on the mound and he was successful at holding the Indians at bay the inning before. An offering to Jamie Apicella found itself on the wrong side of the outfield fence to make it 7-5. Two batters later, with a man on base, Raineri stepped to the plate and launched a two-two pitch over the left field fence for his second homer of the game. His teammates gathered around home plate, waiting for Raineri to finish rounding the bases. As they had done three times before, they all raised their voices and shouted “boom” as Raineri stepped on the plate. It was then Newsday reporter Tim Leonard heard the slugger declare, “This is ours!”
The game seemed all but decided by the time Weinert stepped to the plate for the Eagles. Down 9-5 and one out on the board, he topped a slow dribbler to the shortstop. As he hustled down the line, the throw went over the first baseman and into right field. A few batters later, young Hodge walked to the plate.
As Hodge approached the plate, he walked past Dennin, who just went down swinging for out number two. Hodge had been a steady hitter throughout his high school career, batting .421 the season before. Just earlier that day, he went a perfect 3-for-3 against Johnstown. With two men standing on base, Hodge stroked a shot down the right field line. Two runners scored, and before the dust settled, Hodge stood on third with a triple to make it 9-7. Rattled, Smithtown’s Steve Reduto walked Quatraro. Scott Holecek relieved Reduto to face off against left-handed hitting Hackman, and proceeded to walk him to load the bases, and bringing up Lorette.
Lorette had started the season playing outfield, away from his customary first base. After a stint of not hitting well at the plate, he was benched. Towards the end of the season, Lorette recalled being worked back into the line-up, playing first base as Hackman pitched, and hitting from the designated hitter slot. “I wasn’t a particularly power hitting player,” said Lorette. “[Hodge] was a great coach. My feeling was he had a good sense to know how to push a player in a certain way. He recognized that either I was the hot hand, or the player best suited to play.” Against Smithtown, Lorette accounted for two of Bethlehem’s 13 hits, as he walked to the plate.
Another left-handed hitter, Lorette showed patience at the plate. “I know I made it to a full count,” he said. “There were a couple of fastballs there that I swung through. The last pitch I think was a slurve or a curveball.” Lorette swung and pulled the ball, a sharp ground ball heading to the gap between the second and first basemen. “When I hit the ball, I thought, ‘this is a single.’ It was going between the first and second basemen, and I put my head down to run.”
Coach Hodge stood in the third base coach’s box. His son Scott had already bolted for home. The coach’s eyes focused on Quatraro at second.
“The ball hit between first and second,” he said. “I’m concentrating on Quatraro because I want to get him home to tie it. I’m waving him in … .”
With the game on the verge of being tied, his team’s bench and accompanying fans fell oddly silent. “And, then I hear the ‘out’ call,” said Lorette. “I felt there was no way someone fielded the ball that quickly. It was too fast. I had my head down. And then, you fill in the blanks.”
Lorette’s sharp grounder screamed to the gap, heading to right field for an all but guaranteed two-run single. But, as Hackman made his step towards second, the ball hit him in the thigh, silencing both the Bethlehem bench and their fans.
“When I was rounding third, the other team was coming out of the third base dugout,” recalled Quatraro. “ I didn’t know the ball had hit Alex. I thought I was scoring the tying run.”
Hodge recalled the confusion in Quatraro’s eyes, as they both looked at each other. ” So, the ball hit Hackman,” said Hodge. “We had the tying run right there. We would have tied the game right there.”
The awkward way in which the game ended still makes those involved chuckle 25 years later.
“That had to be one of the strangest ways to end a game, let alone a championship game,” said Quatraro. After graduating from Bethlehem Central in 1992, the Selkirk native earned All-America honors at Old Dominion before the Tampa Bay Rays selected him in the amateur draft in 1996. After an injury-plagued career, Quatraro broke in to the Major Leagues as the assistant batting coach for the Cleveland Indians.
After several years coaching at Bethlehem Central, Hodge moved on to assist coaching at the college level. At 68, he is now retired from baseball.
Speaking from his office in New Jersey, Lorette called the season “special.”
“I don’t think anybody has any bitter feelings,” said Lorette. “Being in second place — It was just fun, and real special.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.