May 22, 2008
Streaking to Wisconsin
Dragons take 38-game win streak into World Series
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland High grad Mike Avery waits on deck during a regular season game. The SUNY Cortland junior will start in right field for the Red Dragons when the World Series opens Friday in Wisconsin.
By ALAN BUTLER
Lugging around a school record-winning streak has not been that much of a burden.
In fact, SUNY Cortland head baseball coach Joe Brown could recall only one time when the current 38-game unbeaten streak his team will take into the NCAA Division III World Series may have created some nerves for his veteran squad.
Brown remembered back to the day in April when the Red Dragons were trying to break the school record while having their hands full in the second half of a doubleheader at Fredonia. That is when a bases-loaded triple by senior second baseman Joey Russo came in handy while pulling out a 6-2 victory, erasing an early 2-0 deficit.
The Red Dragons (42-3) have captured a dozen more victories without a loss since setting the school record.
That included breezing through the SUNY Athletic Conference tournament while out-scoring three foes 40-16. That included winning four games at the New York State Regional last weekend at Auburn’s Falcon Park, including surviving two battles with Rensselaer to earn a second consecutive trip to the Division III World Series.
“A winning streak means nothing to them. They’re just worried about winning their next game,” said Brown, feeling the pressure was off after setting the school record.
Now comes that next game, as the Red Dragons will face Trinity College out of Connecticut at 8:45 p.m. local time in the fourth and final opening round game being played at Fox Cities Stadium in the Wisconsin town of Grand Chute.
Trinity, out of Hartford, knows a little something about winning streaks, too. Coach Bill Decker’s team has not lost this season, those 41 consecutive victories an NCAA Division III record.
Trinity knows a little something about the Red Dragons, too — since the two teams squared off twice a year ago at the New York State Regional at Falcon Park in Auburn. In fact, that last loss suffered by the Bantams came against the Red Dragons last year, Cortland a 10-6 winner.
Trinity has been to the World Series on two previous occasions, but has yet to win a game. The Bantams have been in the NCAA tournament seven times.
Pitching has been a huge strength for the Bantams, who have three players ranked in the Top 10 nationally in earned run average. Junior right-hander Jeremiah Bayer (1.10) is ranked fifth, senior right-hander Tim Kiely (1.37) sixth and senior Michael Regan (1.45) seventh.
Red Dragon batters remember Kiely, who was involved in a memorable duel with former Cortland pitcher Jimmy Dougher in last year’s NCAA regionals — a game the Red Dragons lost 2-1 in 13 innings. This season, Kiely has struck out 87 hitters in 55 innings or work.
Senior Chandler Barnard and Kiely are both 10-0 on the season, while Bayer and Regan have 8-0 marks.
The most dangerous Trinity hitter is first baseman Kent Graham, the sophomore hitting .419 with eight home runs and 55 RBI.
Russo, the hero of that Fredonia victory, has been swinging a hot bat in the post-season and is the leading hitter among Cortland starters with a .408 average.
“Once you get hitting it is all confidence,” said Russo. “I don’t take a lot of batting practice, you just go up there and hit.”
The Red Dragons will rely on the bats of people like catcher Mike Zaccardo in this World Series, the senior hitting .399 with team highs of six home runs and 47 RBI. This line-up is stacked with .300 hitters like outfielder Adam Diminio (.392), designated hitter Andersen Gardner (.381), outfielder Mike Avery (.372), shortstop Matt Vitalone (.342), first baseman Nick DeVito (.339) and outfielder Kyle Dimino (.325).
Sophomore lefthander Matt Tone has been the ace of a youthful pitching staff, with an 8-0 record. He has a 2.49 earned run average with 76 strikeouts in 61-1/3 innings of work.
Starter Nicolas Blanco (5-1, team high 1.31 earned run average) and senior Ryan Hooper (4-0, 2.12) were both named to the all-New York State Regional team for some solid post-season pitching stints. Junior Blanco came one out from a complete game victory in the 6-2 victory this past Saturday over Rensselaer that clinched this World Series trip for the Red Dragons. The previous day in a win over the same Rensselaer squad, Hooper provided a scoreless relief stint as the Red Dragons pulled away.
Junior Brendan Rowlands (4-0, 1.98) also earned a win as a starter in the NCAA tournament, while freshmen arms, while junior J.J. Potrikus (3-0, 3.82) earned a save in Auburn.
Freshmen pitchers Michael Mahay (4-0, 1.55), Travis Ratliff (6-0, 3.21) and Mike Assman (5-0) are three rookies Coach Brown always cites as being keys to this amazing winning streak.
The Red Dragons are making their third trip to the World Series in the past four years. They were fourth a year ago with a 2-2 record at this same Fox Cities Stadium site, battling back after losing to eventual champion Rowan on opening day.
The Red Dragons are in the NCAA tournament for the 16th consecutive spring, which is the longest current active streak of any Division III program. Cortland’s best showing was a second place finish in 2005.
The winner of Friday’s game will play the winner of a Friday’s 4:30 p.m. game between Wisconsin-Whitewater (39-8) and Linfield (34-11) on Saturday night. The losers of those two games will play Saturday afternoon.
Other first round games Friday feature top-ranked Chapman (39-3) vs. defending champion Kean (39-9) and Adrian (34-11) vs. Johns Hopkins (39-6).
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