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May 3, 2008

 

Red Dragons come out swinging

Top seeds beat Cardinals to get playoffs underway

Red Dragons

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Nick DeVito of SUNY Cortland beats the tag of Plattsburgh third baseman Billy Davis as he slides in with a two-run triple during the third inning of Friday’s SUNYAC tournament game at Wallace Field. Cortland had 20 hits in a 15-7 victory.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor
As third baseman Steve Nickel pointed out, those 29 consecutive wins the SUNY Cortland baseball team brings into post-season play do not mean all that much right now.
The Red Dragons are starting anew, with a 0-0 clean slate Nickel notes, now that the playoffs are underway with the start of the SUNY Athletic Conference tournament Friday afternoon at Wallace Field.
But that school record winning streak has pretty much established the fact Coach Joe Brown’s regular season champions and tournament hosts know a thing or two about winning. That trait was certainly on display as a 20-hit attack dispatched fourth seed Plattsburgh with relative 15-7 ease in the second of two games played on opening day.
Sophomore Nickel drove in four runs, classmate Andersen Gardner was a perfect 4-for-4 as a designated hitter and 11 different players collected hits as this 30th straight win carries Cortland (34-3) into today’s 1 p.m. winner’s bracket game against Oneonta (24-14).
Second seed Oneonta rallied in the opening game to trip up third seed Brockport 3-2, stretching its own winning streak to a dozen straight games.
This double-elimination gathering of the conference’s top four teams continues with three games on today’s schedule, weather permitting, The championship round slated to start at noon Sunday.
“We just have to play Cortland baseball,” said Nickel of this quest to repeat as conference playoff champions and earn a berth into the NCAA Division III tournament. A two-run triple in the fifth inning and two-run single coming with the bases loaded in the sixth were his contributions in sending Plattsburgh  (15-20) into the loser’s bracket to meet Brockport (21-16-1) this morning.
“When you put on a Cortland uniform you have to play your game, and you have to know the other team is always going to give their best effort,” Nickel added.
After a couple of scoreless innings, a five-run outburst in the bottom of the third off Plattsburgh junior right-hander Matt Kelley put Cortland ahead for keeps. The Red Dragons scored in every inning from that point on as the Cardinals used seven different pitchers trying to stop the rash of runs.
Cortland did it up and down the line-up, too.
Senior second baseman Joey Russo opened rallies in both the third and fourth innings with leadoff doubles from the No. 9 slot in the Cortland batting order. Leadoff man Khyle Diminio had three hits in his first three at bats. Catcher Mike Zaccardo had a pair of hits, scored twice and drove in a run. First baseman Nick DeVito capped that five-run spree in the third inning with a two-run triple. His replacement, John Giametta, Jr., had a two-run double in the seventh. The final Red Dragon run was a triple by pinch-hitter Adam Dimino in the bottom of the eighth — the seventh extra-base hit for the winners.
NO WONDER GARDNER could state of these potent Red Dragons: “We can start (a rally) anywhere in the line-up.”
How many teams can have its batting leader (in Cortland’s case, Cortland High grad Mike Avery) go hit-less and still post 15 runs on the scoreboard? And when Avery got day off after going 0-for-3, replacement Mike Zilnicki contributed a pair of hits to this cause.
“Everyone is stepping up and doing their job,” said Gardner, whose first two hits were well-struck balls that smacked off Plattsburgh pitcher Kelley. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We have a lot of team players and it’s fun to watch.”
“This is just one game,” warned Coach Brown, knowing more tests are ahead for Cortland. “Now comes Oneonta and they’ve got good pitching and we have to be ready to compete.”
Cortland had a few days to get ready for Plattsburgh, which helped.
“We spent the last couple of days game-planning for facing Kelley and our hitters did a good job going against him,” said Brown, Kelley coming into the game with a team best 1.78 earned run average.
Cortland would get at least one hit in all nine innings, a handful of those coming when Kelley was roughed up in the bottom of the third.
Russo started that outburst by lofting a double into right-center field. After Khyle Dimino fouled off one sacrifice bunt attempt he bounced a single into right field to score Russo, who beat an errant relay throw home for the game’s first run.
Zaccardo added a one-out RBI single, with an error and the first infield single Gardner glanced off Kelley filling the bases. A wild pitch made it 3-0, while DeVito’s booming triple upped the lead to 5-0.
Plattsburgh proved it could score runs, too. Consecutive singles off Cortland starter Brandan Rowlands by Kyle Kowalowski, Jared Jarvis and Erick Schwind filled the bases and led to a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. A sacrifice fly and the Red Dragons inability to turn a potential inning-ending double play plated two Cardinals.
BUT CORTLAND JUST kept scoring and scoring. Plattsburgh did get four runs on four hits and a couple of errors in the seventh, hit the ball hard to add a ninth inning run, but could not match Cortland’s offensive firepower.
Leadoff man Zach Welsh was 3-for-4 with a double as the Cardinals finished with 11 hits.
But Coach Brown was pleased with the four pitchers he used Friday and has a lot of capable arms ready for the weekend, including left-handers Matt Tone (6-0) and Travis Ratliff (6-0). Ratliff is among a freshman class of pitchers who have excelled, along with people like Mike Mahay and Mike Assman, who have helped overcome injuries to key Red Dragon arms like George Jweid and Ryan Hooper.
Hooper and Nicolas Blanco, who pitched 1 1/3 innings against Plattsburgh to pick up the win, have returned from injury and will be a plus to the Red Dragon staff. Cortland will make a decision whether to use or medical red-shirt Jweid sometime next week. Jweid was expected to be the ace of this year’s staff, the lefty from New Hartford getting some bullpen work in during this victory.
‘I’m literally shocked we were able to go through the league unbeaten the way we did,” says Brown, the Red Dragons a perfect 14-0 in the SUNYAC regular season. “Not that we didn’t have the talent to do it, but because of all the freshmen pitchers we had use. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”
Oneonta 3, Brockport 2: Oneonta scored the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth inning, Chris Brady singling into leftfield to score teammate Tim Flaherty from second base.
Flaherty was safe on an error and was bunted to second by Anthony Suhadolnik before Brady delivered, the junior just beating the throw to the plate.
Oneonta had tied the game — a pitching battle between Red Dragon starter Steve Juedes and Tim Mascari of Brockport — at 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth in a solo home run by Dan Randall.
Each side finished with six hits.