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October 20, 2006

 

Hey Motown, here come the Cardinals

Molina’s two-run homer in ninth topples Mets, 3-1

Cardinals

Associated Press/Bill Kostroun
St. Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina, right and New York Mets pitcher Aaron Heilman watch Molina's two-run home run in the ninth inning of Game 7 of baseball's National League Championship Series Thursday at Shea Stadium in New York. The blast lifted the Cardinals to a 3-1 victory.

By MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK — The St. Louis Cardinals enjoyed a quick celebration, and then it was time to go.
Hustle to the airport, hop on a plane and head for the World Series.
Yadier Molina’s tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning and another Game 7 gem by Jeff Suppan helped St. Louis overcome Endy Chavez’s astounding catch, giving the Cardinals a 3-1 victory over the New York Mets for the NL championship Thursday night.
Next up for St. Louis, a date with the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night in Game 1 of the World Series.
Hey Motown, here come the Cards.
“I don’t think anybody looks forward to playing us,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.
Adam Wainwright wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth, striking out Cardinals nemesis Carlos Beltran to end it and leaving a stunned crowd in deflated silence just moments after it had Shea Stadium shaking.
With that, the Cardinals earned their second pennant in three years and a jubilant trip to Detroit as they try for their first World Series title since 1982.
“I think this is the best team, and we proved it,” Molina said.
A .216 hitter with only six home runs during the regular season, Molina drove the first pitch he saw from reliever Aaron Heilman into New York’s bullpen for a 3-1 lead in the ninth.
“I just left it up,” Heilman said. “I was just trying to throw it down and away. Instead it stayed right over the middle of the plate.”
Chavez, who made one of the most memorable catches in postseason history three innings earlier, could only stand and watch at the fence as the Mets’ title hopes were dashed.
“I’m just so happy for Yadier. What a big hit for us,” slugger Albert Pujols said.
Scott Rolen, robbed of a two-run homer by Chavez in the sixth, started the St. Louis rally with a single.
But the Mets, resilient throughout their stirring season, nearly came back in the ninth. Jose Valentin and Chavez singled before pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd struck out looking.
“I had one thing on my mind — to send us to Detroit,” Floyd said.
Jose Reyes lined to center for the second out, and Paul Lo Duca drew a walk that loaded the bases.
That brought up Beltran, who homered three times in the series after hitting .417 with four home runs for Houston in the 2004 NLCS against St. Louis.
Wainwright, a rookie filling in for injured closer Jason Isringhausen, got ahead in the count immediately and froze Beltran with a curveball for strike three.
“I can’t let my team down right there,” said Wainwright, who has three saves in the postseason. “We battled so hard in the playoffs.”
The Cardinals, with their 17th pennant in hand, charged out of the dugout and mobbed Wainwright in front of the mound.
During the champagne celebration in their clubhouse, players gathered around several times and chanted “Jo-se, Jose, Jose, Jose,” mocking the popular chant Mets fans crow when Reyes comes to the plate.
St. Louis stumbled down the stretch and won the NL Central with only 83 wins. Many observers gave them little chance against the Mets, who tied the crosstown Yankees for the best regular-season record in baseball at 97-65.
“I don’t think anyone expected, especially late in the season, that the St. Louis Cardinals would be in the World Series,” Rolen said.
Suppan, who beat Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, took home the MVP award this time for two outstanding starts. He limited the Mets to one run and five hits in 15 innings, and once again was at his best in a big spot.
The right-hander pitched into the eighth inning Thursday and allowed only two hits — none after the first.
“We never gave up. We always believed in ourselves,” Suppan said.
Randy Flores worked a perfect inning for the win as the Cardinals’ young bullpen came through again.
Oliver Perez, an unlikely starter for the injury-depleted Mets, matched Suppan most of the night, yielding one run through six innings on only three days’ rest.
But New York’s normally relentless lineup couldn’t muster enough offense.
“It’s really disappointing. It was a great game,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “We just didn’t get any big hits.”
With a runner on in the sixth, Rolen pulled Perez’s first pitch deep to left and Chavez, a defensive whiz starting because Floyd has an injured Achilles’ tendon, raced back to the fence as fast as he could.
In one motion, the 6-foot Chavez jumped with all his might and reached over the 8-foot wall. His mouth wide open, he snagged the drive in the tip-top of his glove — the white of the ball showing atop the webbing like a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Chavez banged into the padded blue wall, buckling a couple of panels, but landed on his feet and came up firing back into the infield. The relay doubled up Jim Edmonds at first base as Pujols and the bewildered Cardinals watched from the top step of the dugout in amazement.
“I jumped as high as I can. Like a 10 percent chance in my mind I could catch it,” Chavez said.
Fans chanted his name and roared “Whooaaa!” over and over again as the replay was shown several times on the big video board in left-center.
Chavez watched, too, and finally came out for a curtain call — a rarity for a defensive play.
Helped by Rolen’s throwing error, the Mets loaded the bases with one out in the sixth before Suppan fanned Valentin.
The light-hitting Chavez then had a chance to deliver with his bat, but he flied out, leaving him 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position during the series.
“We went down fighting,” said injured Mets ace Pedro Martinez, sidelined for the entire postseason. “I guarantee next year, if we are healthy, we are going to be in the World Series.”
The Mets went ahead in the first when Wright blooped an RBI single. But in the second, Molina’s soft single put runners at the corners and set up Ronnie Belliard’s run-scoring sacrifice bunt.
Notes: St. Louis improved to 10-4 in do-or-die Game 7s, the most such wins of any major league team. ... The previous 11 home teams that won Game 6 of an LCS or World Series to stave off elimination also won Game 7. The last road team to win a seventh game after losing Game 6 was Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine at Boston in the 1975 World Series.

 

 

 

Dragons respond well to adversity

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

A bit of adversity did not keep the SUNY Cortland football team from remaining undefeated.
Though third year starting quarterback Alex Smith was injured midway through the opening quarter of last Saturday’s visit to Western Connecticut State, the Red Dragons rallied around back-up Ray Miles and secured a crucial 49-21 victory.
“No question, we could have panicked,” said Cortland coach Dan MacNeill after Smith suffered a non-contact knee injury while running with the football. “There were a lot of things we could have done, but we just went back to business.”
And the Red Dragons will look to do the same this weekend, taking a 4-0 New Jersey Athletic Conference and 6-0 overall record into Saturday’s league tussle at Montclair State. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at Sprague Field.
“We’re a pretty talented team and Miles is part of that, no doubt about it,” said MacNeill, who has plenty of faith in the sophomore signal caller out of Port Byron.
Miles was a third team Class C all-state football performer in high school at Port Byron, and was also an all-league athlete in basketball and baseball. He played on the Red Dragon junior varsity team a year ago and had seen limited action this season.
Given his big chance against Western Connecticut State, Miles passed for two touchdowns and ran for another. He completed 10-of-15 tosses for 142 yards.
“He really has a nice arm. His strength right now seems to be the long ball, he throws a nice, deep ball,” said MacNeill. “Now, what he hasn’t done is make all the decisions you have to make at the line of scrimmage. We have to call the play quickly and get up to the line and give him a chance to make the decisions that Alex made on a regular basis.”
The official line on Smith’s status from Coach MacNeill is: “He suffered a significant injury which he is rehabbing, and then he will weigh his options.” Smith will not be making the trip to New Jersey with the team.
“I don’t think that changes anything for us,” said Montclair State coach Rick Giancola of getting ready for a Red Dragons team with a new starting quarterback. “We still have to concentrate on what we do and doing that better, whether Smith is in the game or not.”
MONTCLAIR STATE had a three-game winning streak halted last week with a 19-13 loss at Kean last weekend, which saw the Red Hawks outscored 12-zip in the final quarter. Coach Giancola’s squad is 2-1 in NJAC play and 4-2 overall, with the other loss a 27-15 setback to Springfield College.
“We had our chances. We had no one to blame but ourselves,” said Giancola of the loss to Kean. Missed field goals, penalties, turnovers and a dropped pass that would have been the go-ahead touchdown late in the game all hurt the Hawks.
Recovering from that stumble is more on Montclair State’s mind than spoiling the unbeaten ways of a Red Dragon team ranked sixth in this week’s American Football Coaches Association Division III poll.
“They want to make amends for last week,” said Giancola of his players. “It just happens to be that Cortland just happens to have an undefeated team, that’s all part of it, but we just want to atone for last week.”
“They are a big, physical team that likes to run the ball,” said MacNeill of the Red Hawks. Junior running back Ryan McCoach leads the NJAC averaging 92.7 yards rushing per game and has 1,327 yards for his career.
The defense has been opportunistic, forcing 19 turnovers in six games. Fourteen of those turnovers have been interceptions, as Montclair State had not given up a touchdown pass until talented Kean quarterback A.J. Roque threw for three scores last weekend.
Senior defensive end Gary Andrewshetsko has a team-high four quarterback sacks, cornerback Derrick Simmons a team-high four interceptions and sophomore middle linebacker Cornell Hunt averages 10 tackles per contest.
THE RED DRAGON defense turned three interceptions into three touchdowns against Western Connecticut State, including a fourth quarter interception by senior linebacker Matt Montpetit returned 35 yards for a touchdown that broke the game open.
Cornerback Jeff Beck and safety Stef Sair also had picks that led to touchdowns, Sair setting the school record with his 13th career pick-off.
Cortland will look to add to its 23-sack team total against junior Montclair State quarterback Michael Jump, who has thrown for 950 yards and eight touchdowns. Defensive end Rich DeJesus had a team-high six sacks.
Miles has veteran senior receivers Anthony Morat and Drew Lascari as prime targets. Lascari has 23 catches for 347 yards and four touchdowns this season, while Morat is six catches shy of becoming the 13th player in school history to reach 100 receptions in a career.
Senior tailback Matt Rickert leads the ground game, averaging 78 yards per game. Rickert and back-up Dustin Bowser have been productive, averaging 4.8 and 4.9 yards per carry respectively.
The Red Dragons have also been productive in the ‘red zone’ while scoring on 25-of-31 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That breaks down to 19 touchdowns and six field goals. The six failed chances were because of four missed field goals and two turnovers, though place kicker Matthew Mintz has been solid including going a perfect 25-of-25 on extra-point boots.

 

 

 

Purple Tigers really slip up on soggy Fulton pitch

FULTON — As the weather got progressively worse Thursday night, the Fulton boys’ soccer team was in its element. Cortland High, meanwhile, looked lost — and did lose.
The Red Raiders broke a 1-1 halftime tie two minutes into the second half and slogged to a 5-1 win that dropped CHS’s final regular-season record to 6-5-1 in the OHSL Freedom Division and 10-7-1 overall. Fulton, the defending state Class A co-champion, improved to 5-6-1 league and 9-8-1 overall.
“That was the worst loss we’ve had in some tine,” said Purple Tiger coach Dan Law, whose squad’s last four-goal loss was a shutout setback at the hands of host Syracuse CBA in September of last year. “We made a bigger deal out of the weather and the field conditions than we needed to, which was a factor in the game. It was the worst weather I can remember having a team play in, but their coach, Jeff Knittel (a former Chittenango and Syracuse University standout), told me they were used to it and played a lot of games under similar conditions.
“At times we played well, but mentally we were too preoccupied with the conditions. They hustled more than we did, too,” he added.
The winners scored first with 25 minutes left in the first half. Theo Bishop got the equalizer for the Purple Tigers 10 minutes later as he got past a defender and scored on a semi-breakaway from the right side as Fulton keeper John Czeck came out toward him.
An intercepted pass after the ball stopped dead in the mud led to a semi-breakaway and the winning goal for Fulton two minutes into the second half, and the hosts tacked on three more goals for the final margin.
Steve Bateman had two goals and an assist for the winners and Matt Vescio had a goal and two assists while Matt Farfaglia and Zach Merry scored once each.
The Red Raiders had a 22-13 shot advantage and Czeck made nine saves. Cortland’s Judd Arnold made 7 saves before Ryan Wiehl came on and stopped six shots over the last 10 minutes.
The sectional seeding meeting is Sunday, and Law said: “Optimistically we may get a fourth seed; fifth or sixth is more likely. This may have cost us a first-round home game. W’ve opened the sectionals at home the last three seasons and are unbeaten in first-round home contests.

 

Late tallies trip up Trojans

Homer Central soccer coach Dave Shiffman does not need to rent a copy of the movie Groundhog Day, because he is living it.
For a school-record fifth straight time, the Trojan boys were shutout in soccer action as the hosts dropped a 2-0 decision to Mexico at Butts Field Thursday.
Ironically, it was two late-game goals that lifted the Tigers to 8-8-1 overall while the Trojans slide to 5-12. Homer had also given up a pair of last-minute goals in a 3-0 loss to Skaneateles earlier this week.
“The guys are really playing well,” said Shiffman. “It is just the same old thing. The guys are playing hard, giving a good effort and have shown so much improvement. They are getting frustrated that they cannot get a win.”
After a scoreless 74 minutes, Mexico finally broke the tie on a free kick restart with 5:39 left in the match. Zach Morgan sent a ball into the box that Kevin Smith headed towards the goal. The ball caromed off the post and into the back of the goal.
According to Shiffman, the free kick was set up by a questionable call when a Homer player was shielding the ball and got pushed to the ground from behind. The officials saw it differently and whistled the Trojan player for the foul, awarding the Tigers with the free kick.
The Tigers got an insurance goal in the final minute of play when Ben Ariola delivered a pass to Dylan Vaughn, who finished the run with a nice shot.
Coach Shiffman shifted some players around in hopes of jump-starting an offense that has scored just 15 goals this season. Senior Pat Cleary was moved to defense while sophomore Jack Kissel moved from the center of the field to outside middie. Another sophomore, Bennett Quinlan, moved to striker and played all 80 minutes there.
“Pat Cleary played his best game of the season,” Shiffman said. “His speed helped us there and he even helped in our transition game by getting the ball up the field.”
“Jack did a nice job and seemed more comfortable on the outside and Bennett helped generate some good scoring chances, but we could not put the ball in the net,” he added. “Tim Mable continued to play well on a very sore, swollen ankle. Dan DiGiovanna also played well and Brett Capps came of the bench and gave us a solid effort.”
Joe May played another strong game in the Trojan goal as the senior netminder made 11 saves while Zach Hudgins stopped seven Trojan shots on goal.
Homer closes out the regular season Saturday at home against Jamesville-DeWitt in a 3 p.m. match.