May 31, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For an entire Friday evening, the Fayetteville-Manlius baseball team chased Auburn all across the diamond at NBT Bank Stadium, hoping to eventually catch them and, perhaps, seize the Section III Class AA championship in the process.
But just when the Hornets looked ready to catch up at the end of regulation, a controversial call halted things and helped the Maroons hold on by an 8-7 margin.
Right from the time Auburn,the no. 7 seed, scored four runs in the top of the first inning, it led, looking to add F-M to its list of higher-seeded post-season victims that already included no. 2 seed and defending state champion Baldwinsville and no. 3 seed Liverpool.
And when the Maroons, clinging to a 6-4 advantage, earned two insurance runs in the top of the seventh to double its margin to 8-4, it looked safer – but the Hornets, who had rallied in both of its nine-inning sectional playoff wins over Cicero-North Syracuse and West Genesee, staged one more comeback.
Leading off the bottom of the seventh against Maroons relief pitcher Steve Bennett, Sean Brown reached on a throwing error. Anthony Nucerino walked on four pitches, and when Matt Truman’s grounder led to a second Auburn error, Brown scored.
Now it was 8-5, and with runners on second and third, Josh Loeffler flew out, and Nucerino raced home on the sacrifice fly to make it 8-6. Mike Hoalcraft’s grounder featured another errant throw, and it was Truman crossing the plate to cut the margin to one.
Up stepped Taylor Smach, representing the winning run as Hoalcraft, the tying run, leaned off first. Smach hit a grounder to Auburn shortstop Matt Brooks, who flipped to John Rizzo at second base for the second out, but Russo’s ensuing throw to first baseman Eric Gatewood was off line, and Smach took off for second.
Yet by the time Smach got to second, the entire Auburn squad was piled on the infield, celebrating the victory. It turned out that Hoalcraft, sliding into second, interfered with the throw, and by rule Smach was automatically out, causing a game-ending double play.
F-M was furious, remembering that a balk called on Brown with two outs in the bottom of the seventh had prolonged its sectional AA semifinal with West Genesee earlier in the week. Back then, the Hornets, with a chance to recover, did so and won in nine innings, 5-3, but here, the game was over.
And so concluded a wild, exciting contest between two sides who had split in the regular season, and were just as close in the third and most important encounter.
But it didn’t start out that way. Auburn bolted to a 4-0 first-inning lead with five hits off Hoalcraft, and when it scored again in the top of the fifth to answer F-M’s run in the bottom of the first, Hoalcraft left the mound, replaced by John Schurman.
As Schurman settled things down, F-M probed against Maroons starter Justin Valentino, putting runners on base in every inning except the fourth, but only adding a single run until the fifth, by which point Bennett had relieved Valentino.
Down 6-2, the Hornets loaded the bases with Loeffler’s walk before Hoalcraft singled up the middle to score two runs. Bennett halted the rally there, and pitched a scoreless sixth.
Then, in the top of the seventh, Auburn struck for a pair of two-out runs off Brown, who had relieved Schurman, on clutch singles by Bennett and Matt Brooks, not realizing just how important those runs would turn out.
All told, the Maroons picked up 17 hits, four of them by Brooks, while Bennett and Justin Valentino each got three hits and Trent Valentino matched his brother’s pair of RBIs. Nucerino scored three of F-M’s runs as Brown scored twice.
So the Hornets ended a 15-7 season under first-year head coach J.J. Potrikus full of close contests, comebacks and excitement, that ended a couple of runs – and perhaps one call – short of full glory.