May 30, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Brian Para had pitched nearly 16 innings in the span of five days, using the same right shoulder that, when sore, kept him from appearing on the mound for the East Syracuse-Minoa baseball team for the early part of this season.
Now the senior right-hander needed one more out in Tuesday’s Section III Class A final against Mexico at Rome’s DeLutis Field to give the Spartans its first sectional championship since 1978.
Ahead by two runs, Para had allowed a pair of two-out singles, putting the tying runs on base — with the clean-up hitter, Kody O’Connor, at the plate, capable of changing the entire game with a single swing.
“I didn’t really think about it,” said Para. “I just tried to get the job done.”
Head coach John Herrington was a little more nervous. “He (Brian) was nearly giving me a coronary,” the coach said.
The count worked full to O’Connor, during which time a wild pitch allowed both runners to move up into scoring position. On a 3-2 pitch, Para brought a fastball. O’Connor swung — and missed.
Just like that, the Spartans had prevailed, 6-4, and its 29-year title drought was over, celebrated with all kinds of delight by the large ESM contingent that had made its way to Rome for the occasion.
Herrington said experience had a lot to do with it. Every starter in the final was a senior, including Para, Joe Gigliotti, Sean Halligan, Tom Sullivan, Jon Kravetz, Jason Kondra, Matt Hill, Paul Lepkowski and Chris DeCoursey.
“It (winning the championship) is huge for this class,” said Herrington. “This class has done amazing things. Nothing can replace senior leadership.”
Every bit of that maturity and poise was needed just to get ESM this far. It had come within three outs of elimination in the Class A quarterfinals against Vernon-Verona-Sherrill on May 24 before rallying to tie it, then prevail 2-1 in nine innings.
Para had pitched all nine innings in that game. After the Spartans’ 9-1 semifinal romp over Chittenango on May 26, ESM would have Para back on the hill, with four days’ rest, against Mexico, a team with which it had split a pair of regular-season contests.
The Tigers countered with Sean Loomis, who saw far less work — five innings, to be exact — in Mexico’s quarterfinal romp over Jamesville-DeWitt, played the same day as Para’s brave effort against V-V-S.
What occurred in the early innings would test Para to the limit. In the first inning, Mexico put runners on second and third with nobody out, but Para struck out both Justin Buckley and O’Connor, then coaxed Mike LaDuke to fly out.
After ESM took a 2-0 lead on an RBI single by Sullivan and run-scoring groundout from Halligan, Mexico tagged Para for four runs in the top of the second to go in front. However, the Spartans answered with a pair of tallies in the bottom of that frame to get to a 4-4 tie as Kondra produced a sacrifice fly and DeCoursey singled the tying run home.
Now Para began to settle down. At one point, he retired nine batters in a row as he sailed through the next four innings, running his strikeout total to eight and not allowing a hit in that stretch. Para said that, once he figured out how to pitch to the Mexico lineup, things got easier. Kondra made a sensational over-the shoulder catch at shortstop in the sixth inning to prevent a rally from starting.
What also helped was that ESM took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth. Gigliotti led off with a single, moved to second on a groundout, and raced home with the go-ahead run on Kravetz’s single. After DeCoursey singled, and James Williams replaced Loomis on the mound, Sullivan greeted him with a single for his second RBI of the afternoon.
Herrington said that the Spartans did fine without the “big ball”, as he called it. All 10 of ESM’s hits were singles, but done at the right times, they added up to runs.
ESM kept that two-run advantage, but the ending proved to be exciting. With two out in the top of the seventh, Loomis singled off the first-base bag and Buckley also singled, forcing Para to confront O’Connor — and require his 10th strikeout to seal the victory.
On Monday, the Spartans play the Section II champions at Alliance Bank Stadium, the first of two regional games ESM must win in order to reach the state final four Saturday at SUNY-Binghamton.