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May 9, 2011

 

Red Dragons hold off Eagles

BaseballBob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland freshman Tim Panetta doubled home the decisive run in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Brockport in the SUNYAC championship game.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Despite the gaudy win total that has now reached 33 games, nothing has come too easily for the SUNY Cortland baseball team this season.
So why should things be any different in the championship round of the SUNY Athletic Conference playoffs on Sunday, when determined Brockport pushed the top seeds to the brink before the host Red Dragons pulled out a tense 2-1 victory in the decisive game of this three-day, four-team Wallace Field gathering.
Freshman Tim Panetta, a catcher by trade but a designated hitter on this occasion, doubled home starting catcher Justin Fredenburg with the go-head run in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Red Dragons. Reliever Brendan Hourihan then retired all six Golden Eagles he faced over the final two innings to save the game for productive starter Mike Mahay, who picked up his seventh mound victory without a loss.
“The slider was working today,” said Hourihan, who struck out three batters while picking up his fourth save of the season. “I was just trying to get guys out. I thought I was just going to go one inning, but they were sticking with me and it worked out.”
That’s how Cortland was able to bounce back from a 5-3 loss to Brockport earlier in the day. That was the Red Dragons first stumble in this double-elimination affair, setting the stage for an immediate rematch with an automatic NCAA Division III tournament berth on the line.
Cortland (33-8) had left a dozen base runners stranded and hit into three back-breaking double plays in the opening game, a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth falling short. So in between games at Wallace Field, Cortland head coach Joe Brown tried to get his team — that had beaten New Paltz 6-1 on Friday and Oneonta 6-2 on Saturday to cruise into the championship round — refocused.
“I told them it’s one game, flush it… with a few other things in there, but we should flush it,” was the advice Brown recalls offering his stunned players. “It’s one game. One baseball game. We know we can play better.”
Still, second-seed Brockport (27-12) grabbed the lead in that rematch with a top of the fourth inning run off left-hander Mahay. Mike DeGregory got the second of his three hits, swiped second and scored on Tom McCormick’s single to center to put the Golden Eagles up 1-zip.
BROCKPORT WAS ON the verge of doing more damage that inning, too, only to have Cortland shortstop John Adornetto turn a potential Jake Coleman RBI single to center into an inning-ending force out at second with a sprawling defensive gem.
Inspired Cortland came right back in the bottom half of that same inning to pull even. Alex Coffey beat out a bunt for a one-out single, moved to second on a grounder and scored when Fredenburg came up with a base hit to center.
That was it for the scoring until the seventh, though Mahay did need to escape sixth inning trouble with an inning-ending double play.
After the seventh inning stretch, Fredenburg led off the winning Cortland rally with a single to left. He was bunted to second by Kris Gentzke and scored when Panetta hit an 0-1 pitch over the right fielder’s head for a double off Brockport southpaw starter Mark Ciccotti.
“My at bat before that he threw me two change-ups, so I figured he was going to go with the same approach,” said Panetta. “He threw two again and he just left the second one up a little bit and I just went with it.”
That was the last hit of the game, both sides finishing with eight base hits.
“Timmy Panetta ends game one with a strikeout and wins game two, and that’s been our season. It’s always been a different guy,” said Coach Brown. “If you look at our statistics, there’s I think 16 different guys with double figures hits, 14 with double figure RBIs and runs scored is something like 13.”
While Cortland got contributions up and down the line-up, sophomore Zach Graczyk was named the tournament MVP for the Red Dragons after hitting .563. He was 9-for-16 in four games, including a single in the title game.
MAHAY CAME THROUGH with another solid pitching performance, too — like senior Mike Assmann’s all-important opening day victory and a complete game effort by junior Aaron Schuldt on Saturday against Oneonta.
“The whole year pretty much our pitching staff has been great, especially the guys in the bullpen,” said Mahay, a senior from Whitesboro who struck out six and walked a lone Golden Eagles before being lifted in favor of Hourihan. He didn’t mind being pulled at all, saying of the lead: “I knew it was in safe hands.”
Only senior hurler Travis Ratliff struggled for Cortland in the tournament, the lefty walking five batters in Sunday’s loss to Brockport.
Still, that game was scoreless until the fifth when a two-out roller Brockport leadoff hitter Jake Coleman legged out for a single kept that inning going. After Ratliff’s fifth walk, Corey Booth drilled a two-run double to left-center and Max Zimmerman belted smacked a two-run homer well over the fence in left. On back-to-back pitches, the Golden Eagles were suddenly 4-0 leaders.
Booth doubled in another run in the seventh for a 5-0 lead and Cortland never made Brockport starter Steve Locke pay for issuing four free passes, hitting three Red Dragons with pitches and uncorking a wild pitch in his six-inning mound stint.
Cortland did get four hits in the bottom of the ninth off Brockport closer Anthony Siracusa, Dan Kaplan’s two-out single trimming the lead to two runs and letting pinch-hitter Panetta step to the plate as the potential tying run. But Panetta struck out and Cortland had more work to do before this title — the 29th SUNYAC championship in school history — arrived.
“I’M GLAD FOR THE seniors, because after what happened last year and the way that tournament ended this is what we wanted,” said Brown, Brockport having been declared last year’s tournament champion after rain kept the playoffs from a complete finish.
Cortland still made the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid, played its way into the World Series and finished second in the nation. The Red Dragons hope defense and pitching can carry them to a similar run when they host the regionals starting May 18 at Auburn’s Falcon Park. The NCAA field to be announced this coming weekend.
“I don’t see us stopping, honestly,” said Mahay. “Unless someone has got a ridiculous offense, I don’t think anyone can handle the pitching we throw out there. We have five starters who would all be the ace on any other team and great bullpen guys. With our defense playing behind us it will be hard to stop us.”
ON SATURDAY —
Cortland 6, Oneonta 2: Schuldt threw a complete-game seven-hitter with seven strikeouts and junior leadoff man Matt June had three hits and drove in two runs for the Red Dragons. Oneonta was then ousted by Brockport later in the day, losing 12-3.
Schuldt (7-1) walked only one batter and gave up two earned runs. He was supported by a Cortland offense that put five runs on the board in the second inning and finished with 10 hits.

 

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