Jun 13, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
As the clock edged closer to midnight and Saturday night inched closer to Sunday morning, the entire Westhill baseball family – players, coaches, parents and friends – gathered beneath the scoreboard at Union-Endicott High School for another round of pictures.
Above them, the shiny numbers – Westhill 7, Somers John F. Kennedy Catholic 2 – signaled a happy and familiar ending as the Warriors lay claim to its second consecutive state Class B championship.
The end came, officially, at 11:30 p.m., two games, two venues, several weather delays and more than 10 hours after it started early that afternoon. When Kevin McAvoy struck out JFK’s Joe Smith for the final out, he quickly disappeared beneath a pile of Westhill players between the pitcher’s mound and home plate.
Five of those players – McAvoy, Mike McMullen, Cory Hewitt, Dan Karleski and Nathan Nigolian – have now been part of three state title teams in 12 months, counting the boys basketball crown won in Glens Falls in March.
“That (state championship) feeling is not getting old,” McMullen said. “It feels great.”
The fact that the final day of the 2010 season became such a long and winding road – literally and figuratively – fit the script for the Warriors’ season, according to head coach Bob Weismore.
“You have to face adversity in order to be a champion,” Weismore said. “And this team did that.”
This wild day began in a rather routine manner, as Westhill rode McAvoy’s power pitching to a 5-0 victory over Tonawanda (Section VI) in the afternoon semifinal at NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton.
McAvoy allowed just three hits and struck out 10 to earn his fourth consecutive victory in the playoffs, dating all the way back to the Section III semifinals against Ilion.
More importantly, Westhill played error-free defense. The same couldn’t be said for Tonawanda, whose five errors directly or indirectly led to most of Westhill’s runs.
Single taliles in the second, third and fourth innings, plus two runs in the sixth, sent Westhill into the state final against JFK, who had elimintated Saratoga Catholic 4-2 in the other semifinal.
And that’s when things got crazy.
Less than a half hour after Westhill closed out Tonawanda, a heavy thunderstorm hit NYSEG Stadium. All the rain forced the grounds crew at the Binghamton Mets’ home field to put on the tarp to cover the infield.
When the rain stopped, Westhill and JFK took the field and went through full infield practice. But just as the Warriors were finishing at 4:30, another heavy rain shower hit, leaving the infield inundated with puddles of rain.
After a lengthy discussion, state officials decided, just after 5 p.m., to move the Class B final 10 miles west to Union-Endicott.
So everyone ventured to U-E, its field hard by the Susquehanna River, where they had to wait out the state Class A final (Pittsford Mendon holding off Wantagh 6-5) before finally taking the field. At 8:48 on a warm and humid evening, the first pitch flew.
JFK struck for a run in the second inning as the two teams played through a pair of brief rain showers. It was still 1-0 when, with two out in the top of the third and the Gaels having loaded the bases against Hewitt, a flash of lightning appeared in the east.
Umpires sent the players off the field again, and fans were asked to take shelter for an eminent storm. There was real concern that the final would have to move to Sunday.
But the storms stayed away and, 42 minutes later (it was past 10 p.m. by this point), the game resumed, this time for good.
McMullen replaced Hewitt on the mound and, in one pitch, struck out John Giordano, keeping JFK from adding to its slim lead – and, at the same time, giving the Warriors momentum that it would never relinquish.
The decisive rally came in the bottom of the fourth. With two out and two on, Greg Schmidt dribbled an infield single that scored Jake Rush to tie it, 1-1, and Giordano’s wild throw on a pickoff attempt allowed Len Graf to race home with the go-ahead run.
Dan Karleski walked and, with two on, McMullen struck again, his double going to the wall and plating two runs. Westhill now enjoyed a 4-1 lead.
JFK cut the margin to 4-2 in the fifth, but the Warriors salted away the state title in response. Nigolian scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth, and in the sixth Graf tripled, then scored on Schmidt’s double before McMullen’s deep sacrifice fly led to a third RBI.
McMullen, whose 3 1/3 inning pitching stint produced the win, gave up a single to lead off the seventh. So McAvoy, his arm weary, still strode in and, in quick order, struck out Ryan Patterson and David O’Dell before Smith went down on strikes to end it.
Westhill’s playoff run rarely featured a deficit and included, in the middle, its 10-2 romp over rival Bishop Ludden to win another Section III Class B title. McMullen said that was the pivotal moment of the entire Warrior season.
“When we beat Ludden, we knew we had the state championship,” he said.
Maybe so, but Westhill still had to go make it official – which it did on a long and draining Saturday that, when it all was done, produced more Warrior glory.