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Malverne finishes atop conference

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Malverne’s starting pitchers going deep into games and its opponents failing to do so were the biggest reasons the Mules were able to finish atop the Countywide Conference II baseball standings this spring with a record of 11-4.

“The record might look like we dominated, but just about every game was competitive and we had to earn every win,” coach Joe Dunn said. “We wanted to build things back up and the conference turned out to be the right move for us.”

The Mules, who were held to two victories in 2019, put together winning streaks of five and six games this season and swept series against Roosevelt and Lawrence, respectively, during those runs. Dunn attributed much of the success to starting pitchers Matt Merkel, Matt McKeon and Miles Tyson racking up quality outings while the bats provided plenty of support.

“Our pitch counts were considerably lower than our opponents,” Dunn said. “We didn’t walk a lot of hitters and our quality at-bats upped pitch counts of the other teams.”

Merkel, a sophomore left-hander, went 5-0 on the mound and also served as the team’s leadoff hitter. He played right field on non-pitching days and struck out only twice all year while producing a .430 average. “Matt isn’t an overpowering pitcher but his location is great and he’s still able to keep hitters off-balance with an off-speed pitch,” Dunn said.

McKeon, a junior who also plays third base, earned two wins on the mound and batted clean-up. He hit .375 with 16 RBIs. “He’s always around the plate and kept us in every game he pitched,” Dunn said. “At the plate he has a great eye and nice opposite-field power.”

Tyson, a senior, brought the most varsity pitching experience to the staff and won all four of his decisions. He played center field and led the team in batting average (.455) with 17 runs scored and a dozen RBIs.

When relief was needed, Dunn often turned to junior Justin De Las Cuevas. A tremendous threat on the bases and reliable at second base, De Las Cuevas was a key to closing out games.

Junior Parker Mercado thrived as a first-year catcher. “He never caught before but volunteered for the best interest of the team,” Dunn said. “He really stepped up and was so solid. The pitchers were comfortable with him.”

The infield featured senior power hitter Gerardo Delligatti at first base and junior Steven Daly at shortstop. Depending on who was pitching, junior Daniel Quaranto contributed at second or third base. He also batted .400. Junior Keondre Greene switch-hit and started in left field.

Dunn said Malverne’s three-game series against Sewanhaka, which finished in second place, was one of the season’s highlights. The Mules won two after dropping the series opener. “It was back-and-forth and both teams played strong fundamental baseball,” he said.