May 7, 2012
Beats Brockport 4-3 for 30th conference title —
Late rally crowns Dragons
In the glow of this dramatic victory, SUNY Cortland baseball coach Joe Brown could still recall a midweek occasion four days into the month of April. That’s when he told his club they were “the worst team in America.”
Since that distressed declaration following a road loss to St. John Fisher, the Red Dragons have certainly proven their coach wrong by reeling off 18 consecutive victories including Sunday afternoon’s come-from-behind 4-3 conquering of Brockport in the championship round of the SUNY Athletic Conference tournament.
Two newcomers to this season’s Cortland roster, center fielder Mike LaTempa and left fielder Brian Barry, come through with the clutch eighth inning hits that gave Cortland its 30th conference playoff title and a trip to the NCAA Division III tournament for the 20th consecutive season.
The top-seeded Red Dragons — now 35-7-1 after defending their conference crown with three victories over a three-day stretch — fell behind 3-0 against second-seed Brockport. They had managed only a pair of singles off lanky lefty Travis Renwick before filling the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Former Dutchess Community College standout LaTempa then singled home two runs off Renwick to cut the lead to 3-2. That brought Barry — who started out in college at Division I Tulane — to the plate against reliever Justin McCarthy. The junior doubled a 2-2 pitch down the line in left to deliver the tying and go-ahead runs, capping a 3-for-4 day at the plate.
“I was actually watching him when I was in left field just throwing curve ball after curve ball,” said tournament MVP Barry of McCarthy, his defensive position being adjacent to the Brockport bullpen at Wallace Field. “So I knew he was just going to throw those to me, so I was just waiting for him to make a mistake. He got it way up and I got a little hook on it.”
Cortland missed adding to the lead when, after an intentional walk, Barry was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Zack Graczyk’s single to left — Cortland’s fifth hit in that eighth inning resurgence.
Brockport (26-17) made things interesting in the ninth off Cortland senior stopper Tom Nagy. After a leadoff single by Jamie Boronczyk, Nagy rang up back-to-back strikeouts and thought he had Corey Booth whiffed looking on a 2-2 pitch.
Booth ended up legging out an infield hit that glanced off Nagy, putting Golden Eagles on the corners with two outs. But a ground ball hit at sure-handed second baseman Matt June finished off Brockport’s bid to force an extra game in this double-elimination affair.
“WE HAVE A LOT of talent, and that just shows we have a lot of heart,” said Barry of this late-inning escape by a Cortland team that, instead of being one of the worst teams in America, is actually ranked fifth nationally in Division III.
On an ideal day described by the official score sheet as “sky so clear it looks fake,” Cortland had nothing but frustration for most of the game. The Red Dragons were unable to get anything accomplished against Brockport’s Renwick, including not scoring with runners at second and third with just one out in the bottom of the third.
Cortland had a dozen ground ball outs through the first seven innings, seven of those handled by Brockport shortstop Jake Coleman. When Barry opened the seventh with a sharp single only to be doubled off first when Max Rosing lined a shot right at the second baseman, Coach Brown made another declaration.
“Guys, it’s not going our way,” he accurately summed things up.
Though Brockport collected hits in every inning except the fifth off Cortland starter Mike Hughes, this game was still scoreless heading into the top of the sixth. That’s when Brockport erupted for a handful of hits, Mike Gianni with a two-run single and dangerous leadoff man Coleman a ringing RBI double, before a line drive smacked right at Barry in left ended the inning.
Brendan Hourihan then gave Cortland two shutout innings of relief pitching, giving up a lone base hit only to have that Golden Eagle thrown out by catcher Tim Panetta trying to swipe second. That set the stage for the Cortland comeback.
“Mike Hughes didn’t pitch his best, but he pitched well enough,” said Brown. “And then Brendan Hourihan’s bridge there was outstanding, and Nagy’s just good.”
Before getting to closer Nagy, Cortland had to stage its comeback.
Bryan Mistretta’s one-out single down the line in left got things started in the bottom of the eighth, with Andrew Pezzuto keeping the rally going with a two-out base hit moments later. John Adornetto was plunked with a pitch to fill the bases, lading to the back-to-back RBI blows by LaTempa and Barry.
“WE HAD A LOT of new guys come in the fall, Barry, LaTempa, Angelucci and those guys,” said Coach Brown, pitcher Ray Angelucci allowing just four hits in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Brockport that sent the Golden Eagles into the loser’s bracket.
June and sophomore catcher P.J. Rinaldi were both 2-for-4 in that Cortland win on Saturday, each starting rallies with doubles.
“They need to taste this,” added Brown of the newcomers. “That’s why a conference tournament is actually a good thing before you go to regionals, because you get used to that pressure. Now they know this is what it’s suppose to be like.”
Now Cortland will wait until the May 13th seedings for the NCAA tournament are decided to see what happens next, though the Red Dragons will be heading to Farmingdale on Long Island most likely as the top seed in the New York Region later that week.
“There was one senior out on that field, so guys are back (next season) and that’s what we’re excited about,” said Brown, second baseman June that lone senior. “We’re set up, but the first thing I told these guys is this is why you come here, to be in games like this, to be in the conference championships, to go to the NCAAs. You senior four-year players, you’re going to four in a row, and that’s something special.”
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