May 27, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Will Randall, as fired up as his West Genesee baseball teammates, crossed the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning of Monday night’s Section III Class AA semifinal at Onondaga Community College, tying the game and convincing every Wildcat partisan that it would win here, and then go face Auburn Friday night for the sectional title at NBT Bank Stadium.
Only it did not turn out that way.
Somehow absorbing the blow of a two-out, two-strike balk while on the brink of victory, no. 4 seed Fayetteville-Manlius scored twice in the top of the ninth and held on to beat top-seeded West Genesee 5-3.
That it would prove so exciting wasn’t too much of a surprise, given that both of the regular-season meetings between WG and F-M were one-run decisions, with the road team prevailing on each occasion. Yet even those games didn’t provide the sudden twists of their playoff encounter.
WG’s Evan Reichel, the same pitcher who tossed 4 2/3 innings of relief the week before to beat F-M 6-5, started on this night, and held the Hornets to one hit over his first five innings of work.
Meanwhile, Hornets pitcher John Schurman mostly contained the Wildcats, but still saw WG get a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third on Colin BeVard’s RBI single.
Two innings later, Reichel delivered a two-out single that scored BeVard to make it 2-0. Given the way Reichel was pitching, that two-run margin seemed a lot larger.
But in the sixth, F-M turned the game around, starting with Brown’s single. Then, with two out, Matt Truman blooped a single just over second base and Brown, running with the pitch, startled the Wildcats by racing all the way home.
Before WG could recover, Josh Loeffler singled and stole second, and Mike Hoalcraft drilled a single that scored Truman and Loeffler, pushing the Hornets to a 3-2 lead.
Brown protected that lead until the bottom of the seventh. Randall led off with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a flyout.
Then Brown got two strikes on Matt Van Allen – but as catcher Nate Olson tried to call time, Brown flinched, and the umpired called a balk that allowed Randall to trot home with the tying run.
Stunned by this turn of events, F-M went meekly in the top of the eighth against WG reliever Sean McConnell, who pitched 2 1/3 effective innings of relief. Then an F-M error put the winning run at second in the bottom of the eighth, but Brown escaped from it.
In the ninth, Ryan Greco replaced McConnell on the mound. He walked Loeffler and Hoalcraft, and Sean Beney replaced him – but Olson, perhaps atoning for the balk, delivered a bloop single that scored Loeffler. Moments later, a wild pitch scored Hoalcraft.
Working his fourth inning of relief, Brown, in the bottom of the ninth, saw Randall reach on an error and go all the way to third. BeVard walked to put the tying run on base again, but with two out, Brown, on a 3-2 pitch, struck out pinch-hitter Nick Davis to end it.
Getting to face F-M was enough of a struggle for the Wildcats, who went that same nine-inning route and overcame a superb pitching performance from sophomore left-hander Jeff Belge to outlast no. 8 seed Syracuse East 2-1.
These same two teams had met April 25 at NBT Bank Stadium, and East won that game by that same 2-1 margin, a game where Belge threw a complete game and struck out six.
But that was a mere warm-up for what Belge would do in the rematch, especially after the two sides traded first-inning runs to make it 1-1.
Over the next seven frames, the East left-hander rarely let the Wildcats get on base – or even make contact. All but three of WG’s outs were attained by strikeout, from swings and misses to looks, adding up to 21 K’s, as he struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings and threw as hard as 94 miles per hour.
However, the Wildcats had its own ace hard at work, and while Bailey Gauthier couldn’t match Belge’s strikeout parade, he did fan six in 6 2/3 innings to overcome eight walks and constantly got out of trouble.
Then, in the top of the seventh, Reichel took over in relief. Reichel escaped the seventh and then pitched scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth, too, keeping it 1-1.
Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, WG was relieved to see Belge out, replaced by Ben Atkinson. But both Atkinson and Damon Ozelek could not keep the Wildcats from putting across the winning run as Reichel and Ryan Greco got credit for the RBIs, with Randall and Davis scoring the runs.