May 19, 2016
Title captured by Purple Tigers
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland High’s Dylan Brown slides safely into second base as Homer’s Joey Tummino tries to handle the throw in the second inning Wednesday.
DRYDEN – The setting was perfect, and what is better than having two local rivals facing off in their OHSL Freedom National Division finale with the title on the line.
Cortland High junior pitcher Duff Steve scattered six hits and was solid after the second inning as the Purple Tigers posted a 4-2 victory over host Homer Central under sunny skies at Tompkins Cortland Community College Wednesday afternoon.
The win gives Cortland — which started out the season at 0-6, 0-3 in Freedom play — the division title at 7-3 while improving to 10-7 overall. It is the third division championship in four seasons for the Purple Tigers.
The Trojans, acting as the host school, slip to 6-4 against league foes and 8-7 overall.
Steve did not give up an earned run as errors factored in all the runs scored, while he walked two, hit one batter and struck out four.
Homer senior hurler Nikolai Grihin pitched well, too. He allowed just one earned run with eight hits, one walk, one hit batter with four strikeouts. The errors behind him were a little more magnified.
“I felt like I needed to locate my pitches since my arm hurt a little,” Steve said as he improved to 4-1 on the season. “I located the fastball and my defense really stepped up and made some great plays.
“It felt great to win the title,” he added. “Our team deserved it because we really battled back after our 0-6 start. We went through some adversity, but everything worked out.”
“Duff, like most of our pitchers, gets better as the game goes along,” Cortland coach Ben Albright said. “If we can play defense behind them, it helps so much. We’re not going to score a lot of runs against good teams like Homer and a few others.
“To start out 0-6 and come back and be league champs talks about how mentally tough these guys can be,” Albright continued. “I am so proud of them. I knew we could do. (Homer coach Robert) Nasiatka and I talked about it before the season started and knew this game at the end of the season would mean something. It sure did. They put up a good fight. Nikolai pitched well and we scratched out a couple and ended up on the good side. Hats off to Homer. I’m sure they will get a good draw and I’m sure we will see them down the road.”
IT WAS A TOUGH one to lose, as Nasiatka explained.
“All you can ever ask is to be in it in the last game of the year,” the Homer coach said. “Steve pitched a great game, so did Nikolai. We just didn’t support Nikolai’s effort. We never got the key hit and we had errors behind him.
“Cortland is tough,” Nasiatka continued. “They have our number lately. I told the team that when they started 0-6 they would still be in it in the end.”
Cortland threatened in the top of the first inning when a single by Jason Lane was misplayed. The error in the outfield allowed Lane to get to third base, but he was stranded there after a ground out and strike out.
Homer got a Brandon Grant single off Steve in the bottom of the first inning, but the Trojans did not score, either.
Back-to-back singles by Curtis Wilk and Dylan Brown with one out got the Purple Tigers going in the second inning. After a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, a short fly ball to center and another strikeout kept Cortland off the scoreboard.
Homer took the lead in the bottom of the second inning. Joey Tummino got a one-out single. Back-to-back errors loaded the bases and Steve was in trouble. He walked Ben Gravel to force in the first Trojan run. After a strikeout, Steve hit Garrett Lewis with a pitch to force in another run as the Trojans would lead 2-0. Steve ended the Homer threat with a strikeout.
Cortland tied the game in the top of the third inning. Lane reached on an error and Alex Babcock singled to left-centerfield. Lane hustled to third and Babcock moved to second on the throw to third base. Steve helped his own cause with a high chopper to third base. The throw came to home plate, but Lane beat it as Cortland closed to within 2-1.
Babcock went to third on the play and scored on a single by Jake Woods to knot the score. Homer turned a double play to end the inning as second baseman Tummino made a great running catch in short right field and doubled the runner off at second base who broke to third thinking the ball would drop in.
THE TROJANS LOADED the bases in the bottom of the third inning as Tummino and Evan Ulrich hit singles and Gravel walked with two outs. Steve caught a pop-up to end the inning. That would be the first of 10 straight batters he retired until the seventh inning.
“I really did locate my fastball better after the third inning,” Steve said. “I was able to put the ball where I wanted to. We did have a big strike zone from the umpire. I learned that in the second inning and put the ball where he allowed me to.”
Cortland took the lead for good in the top of the sixth inning. Steve led off with a single. Senior Clay Larson came on to pinch run for Steve. Woods hit a single, but the ball was misplayed and got by the Trojan fielder. Larson would score from first and Woods advanced to third. Wilk hit a sacrifice fly that allowed Woods to score from third for the 4-2 cushion.
Homer did throw a final scare in Steve, but his teammates baled him out.
Lundeen and Lewis started the final Trojan rally with back-to-back singles to right field. After a quick conference on the mound, Steve got Brandon Grant to hit a ground play to second base. Second baseman Jake Prunier fielded the ball cleanly and started a 4-6-3 double play.
Steve got Storm Grant to hit a ground ball for the final out of the game and the championship celebration began.
“I considered bunting Grant in the seventh,” Nasiatka said. “I also wanted to give him a chance to tie it. He leads the league in doubles and he was more than likely going to be the last batter Steve saw. He hits a double and it is tied, he bunts and Woods comes in. I would do the same thing again.”
BOTH COACHES PRAISED the TC3 facilities and the chance to play there.
“I have to thank TC3 for hosting our two home games this year,” Nasiatka said. “Ryan Stevens is really building a good program around up there. Nikolai was able to pitch on the field he will play on the next two years. I would encourage many of the local guys to start their college experience up there.”
“This is a great setting,” Albright said. “It would be nice to play here in the future. Coach (Ryan) Stevens took care of us and the grounds crew was composed of one of our former players, Andrew Babcock. It’s nice to keep things local.”
Cortland and Homer do have two non-league games left before Sunday’s seeding meeting for sectionals. The Purple Tigers host Whitesboro Friday and 4:30 p.m. and Bishop Ludden Saturday at noon on Greg’s Field at Beaudry Park. The Trojans travel to Jamesville-DeWitt Friday at 4:30 before hosting Vestal at Onondaga Community College Saturday at 1 p.m.
HOMER JVs snapped Cortland’s six-game winning streak with a 10-6 win at Greg’s Field. Caleb Thompson went 3-for-4 with a triple and two runs scored for Cortland. Connor Holl added a 1-for-3 effort with a double, run scored and one RBI.
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