SYRACUSE 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.