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May 5, 2012

 

Red Dragons get off to fast tourney start

PitchJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland pitcher Aaron Schuldt allowed only four Plattsburgh hits in Friday’s conference tournament opening victory. The Red Dragons prevailed, 8-2.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Getting off to a good start is always an important part of the post-season play, which proved to be the case when a streaking SUNY Cortland baseball bunch got the conference playoffs successfully underway.
The top-seeded Red Dragons were 8-2 winners over Plattsburgh to get this four-team, three-day double-elimination SUNY Athletic Conference tournament started on Friday, a victory capped by Andrew Pezzuto’s two-run homer over the Wallace Field left field fence in the bottom of the eighth inning. That blast concluded a productive 4-for-5 outing for the junior designated hitter, and was the last of 13 base hits for the defending champions.
But the tone was set for a 16th consecutive Cortland victory much earlier on a warm afternoon that had the sun peaking around Cumulus clouds from time to time, starting with starting pitcher Aaron Schuldt escaping top of the first inning trouble with a little help from his friends. With Cardinals perched on the corners with just one out, shortstop John Adornetto and second baseman Matt June turned a nifty double play to prevent the fourth seeds from doing some confidence-building early damage.
“You gain some momentum from that,” said June of that crucial twin killing.
Senior sparkplug June then led off the bottom of the first by lining a double up the gap in left-center as Cortland went on to score twice in each of the first, second and third innings. Backed by that early run support, Schuldt become downright stingy — with Adornetto and June turning another double play in the sixth inning — and Cortland was on its way to improving its overall record to 33-7-1 this spring.
Cortland will face Brockport at 1 p.m. today, with that winner advancing into Sunday’s championship round a mere win away from a title that would earn an automatic NCAA Division III playoff berth. Brockport pulled out a 4-3 victory over Plattsburgh in the bottom of the ninth in Friday’s second game at Wallace Field.
“We want to set the tone early, try to put up as many runs as we can as early as possible and keep pouring it on like we did today,” said Pezzuto.
UP 6-0, HOWEVER, the Red Dragons were shut down in the middle innings by Plattsburgh reliever Dan Tracy. After taking over in the fourth frame, Tracy tossed shutout ball until two outs into the eighth inning. That’s when June came up with his second double of the game before Pezzuto hit a 3-2 pitch for his home run.
So when Plattsburgh posted a couple of late runs to keep matters interesting, Cortland coach Joe Brown looked back to the importance of escaping the first inning predicament.
“That was huge. If they go up there….” mused Brown, pondering the potential trouble that was avoided.
“You saw what Dan Tracy did for them. He pitched a great game for them,’ he added. “We came out and did a great job for the first three innings offensively, and then we did nothing until Pezzuto’s home run and that was disappointing. In tournament play, those kind of innings become big and here they are in the eighth and ninth when they get guys on and all of a sudden we can’t throw strikes. So we have to do a better job innings four through seven, which has been a problem for us.”
Plattsburgh (22-16) picked up an unearned run in the eighth, Schuldt’s final inning of work, when a two-out error opened the door for an RBI infield chopper Greg Larnerd bounced over the mound. The Cardinals then opened the ninth with three consecutive base hits for another run, singled home by Mike Vargues, before Cortland senior stopper Brendan Hourihan got the final three outs.
Senior Schuldt, out of Liverpool, allowed just four singles and struck out eight. Plattsburgh managed a lone base runner in the second through fifth innings off the right-hander, that Cardinal reaching after getting hit by a pitch.
But the early double play provided a nice reprieve for Schuldt, who is now 7-1 with a 1.21 earned run average.
“It was a rough start. I didn’t have my best stuff today, you could tell, but the defense picked me up in the first and that was the greatest. They always pick me up,” said Schuldt. “I couldn’t find my curveball until later in the game, but the defense made some plays so that’s all that matters.”
CORTLAND’S TWO-RUN first inning started with June’s double and a Pezzuto bunt single. June scored on a wild pitch and Pezzuto scored on a Brian Barry grounder. In the second, Zach Graczyk reached on an error and was bunted to second by catcher Tim Panetta. After a Bryan Mistretta single put Red Dragons on the corners, a June sacrifice fly and a balk upped the lead to 4-zip.
Cortland filled the bases in the third on a Barry bunt single, a Max Rosing line drive to center and a walk. Starting Plattsburgh pitcher Kyle Kelly could not field Panetta’s bouncer to the mound cleanly and had to settle for an out at first instead of cutting off a run at the plate, with Cortland picking up the second run of that inning on a Mistretta RBI single.
That was it until Pezzuto’s late home run, his second of this season.
“I saw the ball good today,” said Pezzuto, whose lone out was a line drive snared by the Plattsburgh third baseman after being given the green light by Coach Brown on a 3-0 pitch. The home run came on a full count Tracy fastball.
“Honestly, that was a 3-2 count and I really wasn’t trying to (hit a home run). I was just taking short hacks. It was a fast ball he just left up,” said Pezzuto.
“It was a good baseball game, and I expect the same the rest of the weekend,” said Brown, knowing the path to the title will not be easy. “Right now, we’re just keep getting wins and keep getting ourselves in good situations.”
Brockport 4, Oneonta 3: The third hit of the game by junior Nick Brunce,coming with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, lifted Brockport (25-15) to a victory over Oneonta (17-20). Oneonta had tied the game at 3-3 in the top of the ninth on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Charlie McDowell. Chris Massaroni led the Red Dragons offense, going 2-for-4.
Bunce was 3-for-4 on the day and drove home two runs for Brockport, while Pete Wilson and Tracy each added a pair of hits.

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