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May 7, 2016

 

Dragons grab opener

DragonsBob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland shortstop Paul Dondero has the ball bounce away on a pick-off attempt on Fredonia’s Steve Zaprowski on Friday.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Thanks to the complete-game pitching effort of Tanner Whiteman, early-inning struggles at the plate did not cost the SUNY Cortland baseball team in this opening post-season task.
Down 1-0 to fourth-seed Fredonia through five frames, the top-seeded Red Dragons finally broke through to secure an 8-1 win over the feisty Blue Devils to get the double-elimination SUNY Athletic Conference playoffs underway on an overcast Friday afternoon.
Pinch-hitter Seth Lamando’s bloop two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning put playoff host Cortland ahead to stay. A six-run outburst in the bottom of the seventh — featuring a bases-loaded triple by second baseman Connor Griffin — did the final damage just as rainfall arrived to soak Wallace Field.
“One hundred percent of the credit goes to Tanner Whiteman,” said head coach Joe Brown after his defending NCAA Division III national champion and currently No. 1 nationally-ranked Red Dragons improved to 35-5 with a 14th consecutive victory.
Whiteman finished with a six-hitter, striking out six and walking a lone Blue Devil. And that free pass with two outs in the second inning came on a 3-2 pitch the 6-foot-4 senior out of Cazenovia was convinced caught the plate.
“We did not hit good. We did not follow the plan for five or six innings,” was a Brown disappointment in victory, as Cortland could not ruffle Fredonia starter Zachary Jordon in the early going. “I just told them that I was like a professor who gave them work sheets all week how a certain kid was going to pitch you and we disregarded it for five (innings). That’s where my frustration is. Our focus should be laser-sharp right now.”
Cortland should be focused facing third-seed Brockport (23-17) at 1 p.m. this afternoon, as the winner advances into Sunday’s noontime championship round. Brockport knocked off second-seed Oswego (30-8) in a 10-8 affair after Friday’s rain subsided following the Red Dragons’ opening escape.
Fredonia (20-19) went up against Oswego (30-8) at 10 a.m. this morning in an elimination game, the first of three contest slated for Wallace Field.
WITH WHITEMAN GOING the distance throwing just 105 pitches, the Cortland pitching staff should be ready for the rest of the weekend in this bid to earn the 34th conference playoff title in school history and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.
Whiteman felt his cutter was working best against Fredonia, as he improved to 7-0 on the season and lowered the 2.33 earned run average brought into the playoffs.
“When I located it well, away or low and in, when I was hitting my spots it was working,” said Whiteman of his cutter. “Every pitch was working. The hits they got came when I left pitches up. That run they scored, I left an 0-2 cutter up in the zone. But when that didn’t happen, we were getting outs.”
The 0-2 pitch Whiteman referred to was smacked down the third base line by Fredonia catcher Dan Cecilia leading off the second inning for a double. Steve Zaprowski bunted Cecilia to third, where he scored on a Pat Sheehan grounder to second.
After the second inning, only one other Blue Devil reached second base. That arrived in top of the seventh in a 2-1 game when Zaprowski opened with a double.
But after one failed bunt attempt, Zaprowski tried to swipe third base on the next pitch and was thrown out to kill that scoring threat.
Though Whiteman gave up singles to Liam Kelly in the eighth and Mike Prentice leading off the ninth, both Blue Devils were left stranded at first base.
“If the score stayed 3-1 or 4-1, Turner Parry was coming in,” noted Coach Brown, referring to his top reliever. “But we increased the lead, so we didn’t have to use him and that helps us.”
FREDONIA’S JORDON (4-5) had allowed just three hits heading into the sixth, when Fabio Ricci led off that inning drawing a nine-pitch walk. After Ricci was bunted to second and Conrad Ziemendorf also walked, both Red Dragons moved into scoring position on Paul Dondero’s fly ball out to deepest center.
That brought Lamando to the plate, Cortland’s top pitcher who also doubles as a third baseman. The senior dumped a double just inside the foul line in right to put the Red Dragons ahead 2-1.
Cortland finally roughed up Jordon in the seventh, starting when doubles by leadoff hitter Nick Hart and Ricci produced a run. After loading the bases, Griffin faced reliever Lucas Schaefer and quickly fell behind 0-2.
Senior and former Cortland High infielder Griffin lined the next pitch in the right-center gap, that ball hydroplaning to the wall to clear the bases. Catcher Justin Teague then singled Griffin home and Cortland had some 8-1 breathing room.
“He was a little more off-speed heavy and his velo (velocity) wasn’t that good,” said Griffin of facing Schaefer. “I was down 0-2 and I was just trying not to strike out and put the ball in play to be honest. I got a pitch over the plate and I did what I should do with it.”
Cortland collected 11 hits on the day, with clean-up batter Austin Clock going 3-for-5 to lead the offense. Both Teague and Ricci had two-hit success.
“We faced him when they came here early in the year, so we knew what he was going to come with,” said Griffin of facing Jordon for the second time this season, having won 10-2 against the Blue Devil ace back in March. “We obviously struggled a little bit early, but we got it going.”
HAVING WHITEMAN GO the distance will help in this championship quest.
“It’s so important. Our bullpen has been a key part of our season, and throwing a complete game without using them sets up us nicely for the next games to follow,” said Whiteman. “I was just trying to get out there and do my job, set us up for a nice win.”
And winning in the SUNYAC is not easy, as four of Cortland’s five losses have come against league foes.
“This is what you get when you play a team a fourth time. This is my knock on the conference tournament,” said Coach Brown. “You’ve got to keep playing these teams four or five times, and it’s hard to beat them. Their pitcher (Jordon), he’s a good pitcher. He has some good wins.”
Brockport 10, Oswego 8: Brockport proved Coach Brown’s point, beating nationally-ranked Oswego in Friday’s second contest after having been swept by the Lakers in their three-game regular season series.
The Golden Eagles led 5-0 through four innings, featuring a two-run double by former Cortland Crunch summertime performer Wesley Burghardt, and was up 10-3 before turning back a late Oswego comeback bid.
Chris Davis and Brett Sanders were both 3-for-5 for Brockport. Zach Kollar smacked a solo home run for Oswego, and had two hits along with teammates Eric Hamilton, Myles Kutscher and John Barnes.

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