May 27, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For all that the Baldwinsville baseball team has accomplished through the decades, what it did Monday afternoon at Rome’s DeLutis Field was something new.
The Bees, for the first time, repeated as Section III champions, turning back Oswego 3-1 in the Class AA title game on the back of Colin Conklin’s strong left-handed pitching, error-free defense and, once again, timely hits in the clutch.
“I’m proud of this group,” said head coach Dave Penafeather. “They’ve been playing together for a long time and they understand this accomplishment.”
One of the Bees’ seniors, catcher Gabe Levanti, said that, while his team has struggled at times to put runs on the board, it still performs when it matters.
“The great teams learn to find ways to win,” he said.
To say that this wasn’t easy understates the drama that B’ville went through as the no. 2 seed in the sectional tournament. Due to two rainouts, it had to play all three rounds in a span of less than 48 hours, and none of them proved easy.
First, the Bees had to go through 11 tense innings to get past Auburn 3-2 in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Then it had to rally late to edge past Syracuse East 2-1 in the semifinals on Saturday.
In doing so, B’ville used up both of its top two pitchers, Scott Blewett and Pat Merryweather. This left the starting task in the final to Conklin, who said his main goal was to use his curveball to get ahead of Oswego’s hitters.
That the Buccaneers stood in the Bees’ way was a story in itself. Rising from a no. 5 seed, Oswego had already toppled Fayetteville-Manlius when, in Sunday’s semifinal, it stunned top seed Cicero-North Syracuse 10-4, taking out the team that beat B’ville twice in the regular season.
Conklin, and the Bees, didn’t repeat the Northstars’ mistakes and take the Bucs lightly. From the start, Conklin had his curve working, as he glided through the first four innings, only allowing two hits. Yet it remained 0-0, for Oswego right-hander Josh Carney was matching zeroes and frustrating B’ville’s lineup just as much.
The fact that B’ville did not make a defensive mistake all afternoon grew more important in the bottom of the fourth. An Oswego throwing error put Merryweather on second, and pinch-runner Tom Scarfino raced home thanks to another error on Zach Leo’s infield hit up the middle.
It stayed 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth. Jake Norton, whose clutch hits keyed both of the previous playoff wins, led off with a single and moved to second on Josh Savacool’s sacrifice bunt.
Up stepped Levanti, the four-year starter behind the plate, who promptly ripped a double off reliever Brandon Schultzke to score Norton.
Then, after moving to third base on Merryweather’s flyout, Levanti noticed a lazy throw back to Schultzke following a pitch to Jimmy Schmidt and took off, stealing home to make it 3-0.
Those insurance runs would prove important. Conklin struggled in the seventh, giving up a pair of singles and, with two outs, a double to pinch-hitter Jordan Atwood that scored Oswego’s lone run, but also put the tying runs in scoring position.
Taking no chances, Penafeather removed Conklin to a standing ovation from the Bees’ fans. Merryweather took over and needed just three pitches to coax Colin Clark into a game-ending groundout, and the celebration began.
Best of all for the Bees, it gets to return to the Class AA state tournament, and to DeLutis Field, for next Tuesday’s regional final against the Section II champions. A win there gets B’ville to the state final four in Binghamton on June 8, and with Blewett and Merryweather well-rested, the Bees might be perfectly set up for a run at the state title.
“We’ve been here before, so the nerves won’t be as high,” said Conklin, and Penafeather echoed his confidence, saying his players still have more to offer.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet,” said Penafeather.