October 14, 2006
Taguchi unlikely Cardinals hero
Hits 9th inning home run as St. Louis upends Mets
Associated Press/Kathy Willens
New York Mets closer Billy Wagner wipes his face during the ninth inning of Friday’s NLCS game at Shea Stadium, where he gave up three runs in 9-6 loss to St. Louis.
NEW YORK — So Taguchi certainly fits the description of unexpected October hero.
“Who expected that I would hit a home run?” he said. “Maybe nobody. Even me.”
No power threat during the regular season, Taguchi is a playoff slugger now — and St. Louis headed home to Busch Stadium tied with the New York Mets in the NL championship series.
After Scott Spiezio saved the Cardinals in the seventh with a two-run triple that was nearly a home run, Taguchi hit a tiebreaking homer off closer Billy Wagner leading off a three-run ninth inning that lifted St. Louis over New York 9-6 Friday night.
“It’s obviously the most important game we’ve won all year,” said Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ sixth and final pitcher.
NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter allowed a pair of go-ahead home runs to Carlos Delgado that drove in four runs. But the Cardinals tied the game after trailing 3-0 and 4-2, then came back again after falling behind 6-4.
“This may have been the best comeback on a club I’ve been around,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
During the regular season, the 37-year-old Taguchi homered just twice in 316 at-bats. But the Japanese player is 2-for-2 with a pair of homers in the postseason, also connecting off San Diego’s Scott Linebrink in Game 3 of the first round.
“He plays well late,” La Russa said. “He’s not intimated at all by pressure situations.”
Taguchi had entered as a defensive replacement in left in the eighth after La Russa saw Wagner warming up.
“Right now?” Taguchi asked La Russa. “He said, ‘Yes.”’
Wagner came in with the score 6-all in the ninth. Taguchi, 0-for-5 against him in his career, fell behind in the count 0-2, fouled off a pitch, took three balls, fouled off two more and then drove a fastball from the hard-throwing Wagner over the left-field wall.
“He’s got a flair for the dramatic,” Spiezio said.
Spiezio added an RBI double and scored on Juan Encarnacion’s run-scoring single off Wagner, who had earned the save in New York’s opening 2-0 win Thursday night but was booed when he walked back to the dugout after being removed with two outs.
“I just did not pitch up to standards,” Wagner said.
New York, which had won eight straight dating to the regular season, threw 200 pitches — and St. Louis batters fouled off 55 of them.
“We made some bad pitches at the wrong times,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said.
Spiezio, playing because slumping All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen was benched with a sore shoulder, nearly had a home run in the seventh — but right fielder Shawn Green got his glove above the wall, and the ball ricocheted off the thumb, then hit the top of the fence and bounced back onto the field.
“I felt like I had a shot, and obviously I did because it hit the glove,” Green said. “It just didn’t work out, unfortunately.”
Right field umpire Tim Welke got the initial call right and, after La Russa came onto the field, the umpires huddled and upheld the decision, which replays confirmed.
“I felt I had the call correct the entire way,” Welke said in a statement. “The entire crew was in agreement from their respective vantage points.”
Yadier Molina had a two-run double in the second and Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer in the third for St. Louis, and Josh Kinney got the win by pitching a scoreless eighth — getting Carlos Beltran to ground into an inning-ending double play with two runners on base.
Carlos Delgado drove in four runs with a three-run homer and a solo shot off Carpenter, but John Maine lasted just four innings and while he gave up two hits, each drove in two runs. He walked five and threw 88 pitches — one fewer more than Tom Glavine needed to get through seven shutout innings the night before.
“It was a lost opportunity,” the Mets’ David Wright said.
Carpenter had trouble controlling his curveball and struggled with plate umpire Jim Joyce’s tight strike zone, allowing five runs, six hits and four walks in five innings.
“It was crazy,” he said. “Obviously I didn’t do the job I wanted to do.”
Because of Wednesday’s rainout, there is not a travel day. When the series shifts Saturday night to the new Busch Stadium, Steve Traschel (15-8) pitches for the Mets against Jeff Suppan (12-7).
“Trachsel, he’s been tough on us,” the Cardinals’ David Eckstein said. “He knows how to work the zone. He works at his own pace, so we’ve got to be ready and focused.”
Notes: The only other multihomer game for the Mets in the NLCS was by Rusty Staub in Game 3 in 1973 against Cincinnati. ... The Mets were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 2-for-15 in the series.
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Trojans win ugly to clinch 2nd
ELBRIDGE — After Jordan-Elbridge grabbed a quick 6-0 lead and was marching towards another possible touchdown, Homer Central was not looking sharp during the first quarter of its Section 3 B-West Division season finale.
The visiting Trojans needed a spark and the defense delivered.
Senior Tristan Hartnett picked off a James Hohm pass at the Trojan 15 and returned it to the 34-yard line. Behind the running of senior tailback Mark Brenchley, the Trojans marched 66 yards in eight plays with Brenchley capping the drive with a seven-yard touchdown dash. Talon Sprouse kicked the extra point with 10:58 left in the second quarter and Homer never trailed again during a 39-26 victory.
Homer wrapped up the regular season with a 5-1 B-West record and 6-1 overall mark while Jordan-Elbridge slipped to 1-5, 1-6 overall.
Brenchley had another outstanding effort as he rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. The senior has 1,585 rushing yards in 2006, an average of 226.4 yards per game. He has 1,871 career rushing yards, 25 yards behind Luke Siwula (1,896 yards), who is sixth on the Homer all-time rushing list.
Brenchley has scored 19 touchdowns this season, three from tying the single-season school record of 22 set by Dustin Morris in 2005.
“It was an ugly win,” said Homer coach Gary Podsiedlik. “The game got very sloppy in several areas. We never really seemed to find our focus this week in practice. It is nice that we are 6-1 and will be home for the first-round of the playoffs.
“We just were not on our game like we should have been, but look at what Mark Brenchley did again. If people will follow his lead, we can beat anyone,” he added. “He rushes for 300 yards. J-E tries to spread out our defense, so we move him inside and he gets a monster sack. If the guys will follow his senior leadership, I am positive we will play a good football game next week.”
The very next J-E possession, senior Will Connery picked off a third-down pass by Hohm at the Homer 48 and returned 52 yards from another Trojan touchdown. Sprouse booted the extra point for a 14-6 led with 9:24 left in the first half.
The Eagles drove deep into Homer territory again only to have snap on a 33-yard field goal attempt sailed through the hands of holder Jason Coleman, who retrieved the ball was tackled by Hartnett for a 12-yard loss.
Still another Jordan-Elbridge possession ended on a turnover when R.J. Metz fumbled and Jon Morrison recovered and the Trojan 43. In all, the Eagles fumbled nine times, but lost only one, and threw three interceptions. J-E rushed for 59 yards and passed for 78 in the first half.
J-E doubled its rushing output on the first play of the second half when Jake Bandera broke free on a 65-yard run up-the-middle for the touchdown as J-E pulled to within 20-12.
Homer responded with a four-play, 66-yard drive capped by an 11-yard Hartnett to Connery touchdown pass with 10:35 left in the third quarter. The play was set-up by a 30-yard Brenchley run, plus a 15-yard personal foul when Brenchley was tackled five yards out-of-bounds after the run.
Another turning point came after Jordan-Elbridge punted on its next possession. The Eagles defense seemed to hold and Homer was in punt formation. Dylan Calale fumbled the long snap, but had the poise to pick-up the pigskin and race eight yards for the first down at the J-E 48. After two Brenchley runs netted 28 yards, Hartnett floated a pass to Calale in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard scoring strike. Sprouse kicked the extra point as the Trojans led 33-12 with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
“It was nice that Will and Dylan both got involved in the offense tonight and were able to score,” said Podsiedlik. “It gave us a little more diversity in scoring and we give people something more to think about in preparing for us.”
Jordan-Elbridge punted again, but got the ball back at the Trojan 46 three plays later on a fumble recovery by Richard Benesch. Poppe carried the ball three straight plays, the final time a 27-yard touchdown gallop. Poppe (151 yards on 12 carries) added the two-point conversion run as J-E pulled to within 33-20 with the whole fourth quarter remaining.
Brenchley broke free on a 44-yard run to the Eagle 20-yard line on the next Trojan offensive play and he capped the drive three plays later on a three-yard TD dash with 10:49 left in the quarter.
Homer led 39-20 and got the ball back in two plays when Hartnett made a leaping interception as he wrestled the ball away from the receiver as the two were fall to the ground. Joe Riley and Gavin Mager helped the Trojans take eight minutes off the game clock by running the time, but the Trojans were not able to score.
“Joe is a workaholic for us,” said Podsiedlik. “He was a practice player of the week earlier this season. He has improved his attitude and he is one of the guys who a lot of people could take a lesson from. He never once has felt sorry for himself or complained about his playing time being small. He comes to practice everyday knowing that that may be his only role, but he knows that is his role and it helps make our team better.”
With the Trojan second-team defense on the field, Jordan-Elbridge put the final scoring drive of the night together, scoring with five seconds remaining to make the final score 39-26.
“I was excited for our whole team tonight, especially our young linemen,” said J-E coach Mike Smart. “We know the tradition of Homer football. They are big, tough players, but we were able to hang in there with them. That is a positive step in the right direction for our program.”
Homer will begin Section 3, Class B playoff action Friday as the Trojans host the third-place team from B-East, South Jefferson (5-2 B-East & overall), in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal match-up.
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Encouraging effort for CHS in loss
FULTON — What does a football coach say to his team in the moments following a 33-0 loss?
Friday night, Jim Brown was faced with that question after his out-manned Purple Tigers dropped their final OHSL A American Division contest of the season to host Fulton to finish winless in five league games and fall to 0-7 overall.
“I told them I was proud to be their coach with the way they played tonight,” said Brown. “That’s probably the best Class A team in the section right now, and after a slow start we settled in and were only down 13-0 at halftime. Interceptions and some big plays hurt us, but we forced and recovered three fumbles. To come up here and play well against a team like Fulton should give us some confidence. The kids played together nicely as a team, and I hope it continues the next two weeks. It’s very encouraging.”
The next two weeks hold crossover contests against other sectional non-qualifiers for the Purple Tigers. Though nothing is guaranteed — Brown refused to speculate, noting that every time he had in the past that he’d been wrong — it seems likely that CHS will host Watertown, the last-place team in the A National Division, this Friday. All crossover and sectional match-ups will be made official on Sunday.
It looked early on in this week’s contest that Fulton would be able to name its own score. After the Red Raiders recovered a fumble on Cortland’s first play from scrimmage after receiving the opening kickoff, it took them two plays to cover the 35 yards to the end zone. Junior quarterback Mike Clark took care of the final 26 yards, going around the left side for a 6-0 lead 1:02 into the contest after Dan Johnson’s conversion kick failed.
Cortland went nowhere on its next possession, and after elusive senior tailback Cameron Cotton gained 36 yards to the Cortland 13 on Fulton’s first play after the punt, senior fullback Mitch Smith scored from 13 yards out and Johnson’s kick made it 13-0 with just under three minutes gone in the contest.
Cortland’s defense then stiffened, however, and though the Red Raiders gained 217 first-half yards, all on the ground, to 75 for the Purple Tigers (58 rushing), the hosts didn’t reach the end zone again.
Senior defensive back Stephen Wright and senior defensive end Jon Wood recovered fumbles on the Cortland 33 and 15, respectively, on the hosts’ next two possessions before Fulton was forced to punt and then was stopped on downs at the CHS 17 just before halftime, junior tackle Matt Pitcher halting Smith in his tracks on the fourth-down play.
“We played much better,” Cortland defensive coordinator Pete Reif said. “After the slow start, we were able to cause some turnovers, and I’m sure Fulton didn’t expect to have just 13 points at halftime. I think the kids were just excited; they know they were going up against a good team and wanted to prove themselves a little more. The two sophomores who were called up from the junior varsity on Wednesday, linebackers Josh Morehouse and Garrett Wyatt, are both good additions.”
Brown praised those two plus a third sophomore call-up, offensive tackle Eric Confer, for their performances in their varsity debuts. He also noted that “A.J. Meldrim has improved 200 percent at quarterback (the junior starting and playing the first three quarters before senior Tim Fulton took over), and Jon Wood did a nice job at guard, where he moved from fullback because we were a little banged up. He’s a great team player, and does whatever he’s asked to for the good of the team. Stephen Wright had some great receptions, too, and played well on defense.”
Morehouse replaced Wood as the fullback, and in his varsity debut at the position led Cortland in rushing with 51 yards on 12 carries. Wright grabbed four passes for 34 yards.
Cotton, meanwhile, was Mr. Everything for the Red Raiders, who finished second to East Syracuse-Minoa in the league at 4-1 and are now 6-1 overall heading into a first-round sectional game against visiting Nottingham, A National’s third-place team.
In addition to picking up 114 yards on 11 first-half carries, Cotton also intercepted Meldrim and Brian Benford (on a halfback pass). He came in with 852 rushing yards on the season, but was held to 23 yards on six second-half carries by a suddenly fired-up Purple Tigers defense and is 11 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark heading into the postseason. He did, however, pick off another Meldrim pass and returned it 43 yards for a TD five minutes into the third quarter.
That made it 27-0, after Clark had found junior receiver Jeff Landers in the end zone four plays into the second half on a 15-yard pass play, his first completion on his second, and last, pass of the night. Johnson added both conversion kicks. Jay Hartnett came up with Cortland’s third fumble recovery two plays into the fourth quarter, but freshman reserve fullback D.J. Ingham closed out the scoring with a five-yard TD run just short of the midway mark in the stanza, the kick going awry.
Cortland mounted its most serous drive late, as quarterback Fulton hit senior end Codi Clayton with a 33-yard pass on fourth-and-15 from the 50. Fulton kept the ball on the next play and got to the Red Raider eight before a fumble that was recovered by Fulton senior defensive back Michael Reardon.
“Cotton is a great player, one of the best all-around players I’ve ever coached,” said Fulton coach Mike Connors, who had said during the week that his senior standout was perhaps even better on defense than on offense. “We weren’t too inspired tonight, were we? But take nothing away from Cortland; they played tough. I think we put the ball on the ground tonight more than we had all season before this. I was happy with the defense, and happy at times with the offense, though we made a lot of mistakes. Hopefully we got that out of our system for next week.
“I didn’t go into the locker room at halftime. I wasn’t too happy. I know the defensive coaches made some adjustments, and then Cam made that third pick,” said Connero. “If we can step up emotionally we have a great chance in sectionals. When our offense is clicking, it’s hard to stop. We’re pretty happy going into sectionals, and have watched a lot of Nottingham film this week.”
“I can’t take too much credit,” Cotton said of his trio of interceptions. “It was the scheme we were in. The coaches put me in the right position, the ball showed up and I just caught it. I’d like to say it was because of great reads on my part, but I was put in position to make the plays.
“We didn’t take Cortland lightly. We knew they were going to be tough. After the first half, we knew we had to play better. When I’m running I don’t think about my yardage; I’m just trying to get first downs. When you get those and then touchdowns, your team is successful. Personal yardage is secondary.”
Overall, the hosts out-gained Cortland 377-160, including a 362-97 advantage on the ground, despite having the ball for just under 19 minutes in the game. Smith had 70 yards on 10 carries with the TD, and Benford was Cortland’ next-leading rusher behind Morehouse with 34 yards on 13 carries. Meldrim was 3-for-10 passing for 27 yards with two interceptions, while Fulton went 2-for-4 for 40 yards as Cortland had a 67-15 edge though the air.
The Purple Tigers were also penalized only once for 10 yards during the contest, on their last possession of the game.
In addition to Nottingham-Fulton, Friday’s other Class A first-round sectional contests will have ES-M hosting Carthage (fourth in a National); Mexico, the third-place team in A American, visiting A National runner-up New Hartford and A National champion Whitesboro hosting Jamesville-DeWitt, the fourth-place finisher in A American.
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