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May 4, 2009

 

Red Dragons sweep to title

Beats Brockport in Sunday’s title game

Baseball

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland catcher Andersen Gardner hit two home runs in Saturday’s playoff victory over Brockport, the Red Dragons going on to repeat as champs.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Coach Joe Brown knows that because his team has not rolled up its usual gaudy number of victories this season, people have been wondering what’s wrong with the SUNY Cortland baseball program.
Well, the Red Dragons appear to be just fine after capturing a fifth consecutive SUNY Athletic Conference playoff title in unbeaten fashion, capped off by Sunday’s 8-5 tournament title game victory over Brockport at Wallace Field in Cortland.
With senior center fielder Mike Avery and sophomore designated hitter Jason Simone each driving in two runs while going 2-for-4, with sophomore shortstop Zach Reynolds delivering three hits and with freshman A.J. Carney coming up with a clutch pitching performance, Cortland is headed back to the NCAA Division III tournament for the 17th consecutive year.
“It says a lot about the character of this team,” said catcher Andersen Gardner of going unbeaten in this double-elimination conference challenge, the junior among the Red Dragons named to the all-tournament team after hitting two home runs and a triple during Saturday’s 11-6 victory over Brockport that advanced the top seeded hosts into the championship round. “We started (the season) 0-3, and to go from there to be SUNYAC champions, it’s unreal.”
“These kids stepped up,” said Brown, his Red Dragons (29-12) still awaiting the official word that they will be headed to NCAA regional play on May 13-17 at Farmingdale State on Long Island. “We settled our infield down and it took off from there, and how nice was it getting a double play in the ninth to settle the issue for us.”
Cortland turned three double plays in beating Brockport (21-21) for the second time in two days, those wins going along with a 10-6 victory over Plattsburgh on Friday.
The bigger twin killing may have been in the top of the third inning, when Brockport was looking to improve on an early 4-2 lead. The Golden Eagles — who earned a rematch with Cortland by disposing of Plattsburgh 10-3 in the loser’s bracket final — just knocked out Red Dragon starting pitcher Nicolas Blanco with a Mike Meola double, a Todd Allen RBI single and base hit by Kris Gentzke.
Carney, who has pitched only 15 innings this spring after having missed the previous two seasons due to injury, entered the game at that critical point. With Golden Eagles at first and third with one out, Carney got a double play grounder to shortstop Reynolds that snuffed out that dangerous situation.
The left-hander from Penfield went on to pitch 4-1/3 innings to pick up his first ever collegiate victory, taken out after giving up a two-out double to Brockport’s Meola in the top of the seventh. He gave up just three hits and struck out three.
Though Meola would score when reliever George Jweid gave up a single to Allen, Brockport would not cross the plate again. Stopper J.J. Potrikus came out of the bullpen in the ninth to earn his second straight save — helped out by the third Cortland double play.
Cortland trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the fourth when Avery, the Cortland High product and who transferred back home after two seasons playing for Brockport, came up with a two-out, two-run double to put the Red Dragons ahead to stay.
Two Brockport errors helped the Red Dragons tack on three more runs in the bottom of the sixth, building an 8-4 lead. First baseman Kevin Jackson and third baseman Steve Nickel had run-scoring singles in that crucial inning.
Pitchers Carney and Potrikus would be named to the all-tournament team, along with Simone, Avery and Gardner. Brockport’s Meola, Jason Michaels and Jason Shannon were also selected, along with Andrew Gooch from Plattsburgh. Avery went 7-for-14 over the three days and is hitting .382 on the year.
Gardner was 8-for-14 with seven RBIs from his leadoff spot in Coach Brown’s batting order. And he played the title game Sunday despite busting up his middle finger on his throwing hand in the first inning against Brockport — which was just one reason why Coach Brown told trainer Pat Donnelly he was the MVP of the tournament for the work done getting a bunch of banged-up Red Dragons ready to play.
“Just taking a few extra cuts in the cage,” is how Gardner explained his recent success that has raised his batting average to .341. “But mainly it’s getting into good hitter’s counts. That’s what I was having trouble with earlier in the year.”
Cortland had trouble dominating conference foes this season, too, but still finished first with a 9-3 record to earn the home field advantage for the playoffs. “I think the SUNYAC is the best conference in New York State and playing good competitive games just makes you better,” said Brown, which Cortland hopes plays off when the NCAAs get underway.
ON SATURDAY —
Cortland 11, Brockport 6: Starting with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning, Cortland’s Gardner had an afternoon to remember.
The junior catcher finished 4-for-4 with two home runs and a triple to power a 15-hit Red Dragons attack, driving in four runs and scoring four times. Avery was 3-for-5 with a triple and drove in four runs.
Cortland had an early 5-0 advantage vanish, a four-run Brockport rally in the top of the sixth giving the third-seeds a 6-5 lead. Gardner’s two-run homer in the bottom of that same inning put the Red Dragons ahead to stay, with a four-run rally in the bottom of the eighth providing more breathing room. That late outburst was capped by an Avery bases-loaded triple — coming after Gardner was walked intentionally.
Reliever Potrikus retired the Golden Eagles in order in the top of the ninth. Brockport had 13 hits off four different Red Dragon pitchers, Michaels going 3-for-4 and two RBIs.