Vinny Ciaravino remembers the speech that altered Smithtown Christian baseball. Tim Gorton delivered it near the beginning of the 2014 season, his last as a player with the Knights. It was straightforward.
"He said, how -- if we were ever going to become winners -- we had to look at ourselves as family, as brothers,'' said Ciaravino, a senior shortstop and captain of this year's team.
That became a key as the 2014 Knights won their first state championship. Now, it's the backbone of an emerging dynasty in Class D baseball.
Smithtown Christian defeated Westfield, 8-4, on June 13 for its second straight state title. Before that game, as every other time they took the field this season and last, the Knights chanted, "One, two, three, family!''
"We're just such a family,'' said captain Ben Damon, a senior catcher. "We chant 'family' because we're so unified. We're so connected. We take it onto the field.''
Ciaravino said that the team has a party before each season at a teammate's house to foster those connections.
"We would all go over and socialize to welcome the new kids and make them comfortable,'' said Ciaravino, the 2014 host. Damon hosted in 2015.
At a school the size of Smithtown Christian -- Damon estimated his graduating class is about 50 students -- everyone knows everyone at least on a shallow level, several Knights said. But the Knights want to be close. What better way to make a seventh grader, like second baseman Jesse Borgia, feel like he fits in than to invite him to a senior's house to hang out?
It was Borgia, by the way, who made the call and catch that sealed Smithtown Christian's victory over Westfield.
The Knights' roster had just 16 players this spring, but junior third baseman Glen Middendorf said there are perks to playing on a smaller team.
"Having a small team, it's more tight-knit,'' he said. "You go and hang out with your friend on a Friday night and next thing you know half the baseball team is there.''
Playing for a smaller team, Damon said, also can ease the transition from bench player to starter. Damon backed up Gorton as a junior. As a senior, he started and was named captain.
"He was like a mentor to me, a brother to me,'' said Damon, who will study pre-med at Liberty University. "When he left, it wasn't like all right, I guess it's all yours. He was teaching me the ropes as he was leaving so I came into the spot and I didn't feel unfamiliar with it.''
That's the standard for the program, coach Chris White said.
"It's all intertwined,'' he said. "These guys live, eat and breathe baseball. They go to school and take care of what they need to do, but they do it together.''