May 2, 2016
Top Trojans 3-1 in final of Partigianoni Tourney
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland High’s Jake Prunier (25) slides in safely under the throw to McGraw second baseman Devon Tuttle in the bottom of the second inning Saturday at Beaudry Park.
Spring break was good to the Cortland High baseball team.
After starting out the season 0-6, the Purple Tigers scored five wins in the span of six days, starting last Monday and capped off on Saturday when they claimed the championship of their annual Greg Partigianoni Tournament.
CHS beat McGraw 9-1 in the first round at Greg’s Field (see related story), then stayed there and downed Homer Central 3-1 in the championship game, a non-leaguer.
It was CHS’s third straight title in its own event, which didn’t take place last year.
“I’m very proud of the fact that this team has kept its focus,” Cortland coach Ben Albright said. “They had to be mentally tough to come back from 0-6 to 5-6, where they are now. We’ve achieved three of our goals already — staying competitive into the fifth inning of most games, being a State Scholar-Athlete team and winning the Partigianoni Tournament. With those out of the way, we can concentrate on the league race.”
The Purple Tigers are currently 2-3 in the OHSL Freedom National Division, in second place a game behind front-running Homer (3-2 league, now 4-5 overall). The teams will meet in league play on May 18 at Tompkins Cortland Community College in what is a home game for the Trojans.
Junior right-hander Zach Travis threw a five-hitter in the title contest after senior Jake Prignon and freshman Noah Barber teamed up to allow McGraw just three hits in the first round.
While his pitchers were sharp all day, Albright’s hitters didn’t strike out once in the two victories.
“Putting the ball in play puts pressure on the other team,” Albright said. “Prignon went deep into the game and Barber looked good in his first varsity performance; we expected nothing else. I was proud of Travis. Throwing a complete game against Homer, a strong opponent, more than meets our expectations.
“He was getting ahead of batters. We stressed that to him that there’s a big difference between an 0-1 and a 1-0 count. Once you’re ahead you can control the at-bat. Homer squared up and hit the ball (with only two strikeouts in the game), but our defense was rock-solid, especially the infield play of (senior) Alex Babcock at third, (freshman) Jake Prunier at second and (senior) Jake Woods at shortstop.”
“My 12-6 (curve) was working well,” said Travis, now 1-1 on the season with a 2.10 ERA. “My two-seam fastball is my go-to pitch that keeps batters off-balance. I definitely got stronger as the game went on; going against Homer was like what kept me going, almost. It’s great; beating them is the best feeling.”
As noted, the Trojans only had two strikeouts in the game and were making good contact. And after senior starter Evan Ulrich gave up seven hits and three earned runs in 2 1/3 innings, senior Nikolai Grihin and sophomore Brian Quinlan combined to keep the hosts hitless the rest of the way.
“We’ve been pitching a lot by committee, three innings here and two innings there,” Homer coach Robert Nasiatka said. “Nikolai is a grinder and got a couple of double plays to get out of innings, and Quinlan came in and did a great job. We need to have guys step up now. We’re almost at the halfway point of the season, and now it’s league games the rest of the way.
“Our defense played well; a 3-1 high school game is a good game. We’re not getting key hits right now, but we’ll come around. This was a non-league game that both teams played like a league game. You don’t like to lose, but you can learn a lot from these games. No one should intimidate us, or them. I think if our two teams played five games it would end up 3-2 for someone.”
The Trojans didn't waste any time scoring their only run of the game. Ulrich singled to left with one out, went to second on a groundout and scored on a single to left by senior first baseman Brandon Grant, who was stranded by an inning-ending flyout.
Cortland managed one hit off Ulrich in each of the first two innings but couldn’t string anything together. That all changed in the bottom of the third.
Prignon, playing left field in this game, bashed a double down the line in left that hit the fence on one bounce, and advanced to third as a bunt by Prunier went for a single. Prunier was subsequently gunned down trying to steal by Trojans senior catcher Garrett Lewis, but seconds later CHS junior catcher James Lane tripled deep to right to score Prignon.
Babcock then lashed a hit that bounced over the head of Grihin in center for another triple, scoring Lane with what proved to be the winning run. An infield error on a hard shot by junior first baseman Duff Steve scored Babcock, and after Woods singled to left Grihin came on in relief of Ulrich. After walking freshman designated hitter Noah Barber to load the bases, Grihin got an inning-ending double play.
“I went up thinking line drive up the middle,” Lane said of his big hit. “I got a fastball outside and went the other way and hustled out of the box. I just took the ball where he pitched it to me. You always want to come out and compete well with good teams; we had to win to get to 5-6 like we planned.”
“I figured with James here (on third) I had to hit the ball far, like he did,” Babcock said about his triple. “The two triples got everybody hyped up; it was good. You just have to hit the ball hard, like Duff did as well. We figured it was a matter of time for us.”
From that point on the hosts didn’t manage any more hits, Woods the lone baserunner after leading off the sixth with a walk. Quinlan then came on and got a double-play grounder and then another groundout to end the inning.
Travis, meanwhile, had smooth sailing, with only one hit allowed, over the next three innings after giving up the run. He weathered a Homer threat in the fifth and retired the side in order in each of the last two innings for the win.
Consecutive two-out singles in that fifth inning by junior shortstop Riley McEvoy and sophomore second baseman Casey Hayes put runners on first and second. Ulrich then hit a grounder that Woods bobbled before recovering to gun the ball to Babcock for the inning-ending tag on McEvoy, who was trying to get back after going too far past third.
Travis then threw the consecutive 1-2-3 innings to end it.
“Between opening day of the Crown City Little League, this tournament and SUNY Cortland’s team having a game this afternoon, this was one of the best days of the year for baseball fans in Cortland,” Albright said.
Cortland visits Syracuse CBA Tuesday in a non-leaguer, the Brothers returning the visit the next day for a league game. Both contests start at 4:30 p.m. Homer, meanwhile, is at Mexico Tuesday and Chittenango Thursday in a pair of 4:30 p.m. league contests.
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