Jun 02, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
When Jordan Smith stepped on the mound Thursday afternoon in the middle of the Marcellus baseball team’s battle with Clinton in the Section III Class B final at Alliance Bank Stadium, it was the first time he had pitched since May 11 – a span of more than three weeks.
“We didn’t know what we were getting,” said head coach Pete Birmingham.
But the left-hander was ready, both with his arm and with his bat, and that helped the Mustangs rally past the Warriors 11-4 to earn the program’s first-ever trip to the state tournament.
Smith said that, as good as his team was from the start of the season, it wasn’t until the Mustangs stunned two-time defending state champion Westhill 3-0 in the B-1 semifinal on May 28 that “we really thought that it could happen.”
“It,” of course, was a sectional title, and Marcellus took care of the first part Monday by topping Watertown IHC 7-2 in the B-1 final at DeLutis Field in Rome behind Phil Zdanowski’s complete-game effort.
Now came the overall sectional final against Clinton, the newly-minted B-2 champions, and the Mustangs started Tim Schneider, 6-0 on the season and the pitching hero of the Westhill shocker, against the Warriors’ Rob Hardy, going on three days’ rest after he shut out Ilion 6-0 in the B-2 final.
Even as Marcellus went to an early 2-0 lead, though, Schneider struggled to find his rhythm in what Birmingham called his most difficult outing of the season. Thus, after Clinton tied it 2-2 and put two runners on base in the bottom of the fourth, Smith replaced Schneider – and promptly gave up a double to Joe Durant that put the Warriors in front 4-2.
Atonement would come quickly, though. In the top of the fifth, Nick Sinay drew a four-pitch walk and, with one out, Smith stepped up to the plate. Seeing what he could a fastball right down the middle, Smith belted it over the right-field fence, a two-run home run that tied it 4-4 – and all with the same broken bone in his hand, not fully healed.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Birmingham. “He’s heated up and is swinging the bat great again.”
Marcellus would take the lead for good in the top of the sixth as Kyle Hastings led off with a double and came around to score on a sacrifice bunt and throwing error. Zdanowski’s RBI single made it 6-4. With the bases loaded and one out, Mike Sniffen brought home another run with a grounder and, to really cap it off, Sinay pulled off a straight steal of home, just as he did against Marcellus, to expand the lead to 8-4.
“We want to keep the pressure on and be aggressive,” said Birmingham.
Three more runs followed in the seventh, all with two outs, as Zdanowski and Sinay stroked run-scoring hits and a long rundown allowed Zdanowski to make it all the way home. Meanwhile, Smith, despite loading the bases in the bottom of the seventh, finished off his third scoreless inning of work with a strikeout, his fifth of the game.
All this glory, said Birmingham, is a direct result of the players’ hard work both during the season and in the off-season. He also gave credit to assistant coaches Jim Alford, Larry Craft and Mike Bome for helping in all phases of the game, from pitching to defense.
Now the Mustangs focus on its state tournament debut Monday against Section IV champion Chenango Valley Monday afternoon at Johnson City High School near Binghamton. The winner goes to Broome County Community College in Binghamton next Saturday to play in the state final four.
Birmingham knows his team will battle. “They’re resilient as can be and will play hard to the last pitch,” he said.
“Nobody wants to go home yet,” said Smith. “Baseball is too much fun right now.”