Thomas Edison pulled the plug on Fort Plain’s hopes of a second consecutive state Class C baseball championship Saturday at Conlon Field.
Alek Brown blanked the Hilltoppers over the final six innings, and Zack Wolf hit a tie-breaking, two-run single as the Spartans posted a rain-delayed 4-1 state semifinal victory.
Wolf’s key opposite-field hit off Hilltoppers’ ace Dustin Baker came in a four-run, fifth-inning uprising, and served as redemption after the senior left fielder’s unsuccessful gamble in the first inning led to Fort Plain’s only run.
“We had one bad inning, but those things happen. Those were baseball things,” said Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips, who saw the Spartans collected three hits, a walk, an error, three stolen bases and a fielder’s choice in the four-run fifth. “The biggest thing in this game is we didn’t hit in the clutch. If you don’t hit, you don’t win the big games.”
Fort Plain (26-4) had won 14 straight postseason games before running into Brown, a Canisius-bound lefty, and his pesky teammates from Elmira Heights (Section IV).
“We kept telling ourselves it’s win or go home,” said Brown. “It’s the last day of the season, and we wanted it. Us eight seniors, we wanted to keep going.”
Brown rebounded after Fort Plain cashed in on Wolf’s misplay the first, and finished with a seven-hit, 13-strikeout performance while walking just one. Sophomore Tyler Barhydt singled home the Hilltoppers’ run, and another piece of their future, 10th-grader Mark Hanifin, collected three singles.
“He’s been our ace throughout this whole thing,” Wolf said of Brown, who featured a hard-breaking curveball and a fastball with plenty of zip. “Without him, we’re not here playing today.”
Fort Plain lost in a state semifinal game for the third time since 1997, and was halted in its bid to become Section II’s first repeat state champion since Greenwich in 1992-93 (Class C). The Hilltoppers beat Frewsburg, 3-0, and Keio Academy, 10-9, to claim the school’s first state banner in any sport in 2007.
“They’re still champions. They won our league, they won our section and the [Class CC-C] playoff, and they won the region,” Phillips said of his team, which includes 10 seniors and five juniors. “There will never be a team like this group at Fort Plain. They have so much character.
“It’s going to be a bad day tomorrow when I wake up and realize I don’t have another practice with these guys. My hat’s off to these kids.”
“There’s no better group of guys to play with, and there’s nothing like playing for these coaches,” said Fort Plain senior catcher Ryan Hudyncia. “This has been my life for the last couple of years. I love it, and I’m going to miss it.”
Fort Plain’s bid to get back to the title game started well. Adam Cutspec hit a sinking line drive to open the home first, and Wolf dove for the ball and missed instead of playing it for a single, which allowed Cutspec to leg out a triple. After Brown struck out Baker, Barhydt hit his RBI single.
“I thought I had it. I dove for it, but I dove too late,” Wolf said.
“Being down by one run, I just had to keep my head up and keep playing. I had to go forward.”
Wolf stroked his bases-loaded, two-run single to the gap in right-centerfield to give Thomas Edison a 3-1 lead, and after stealing second, Zak Kelly followed with an RBI single before Baker fanned the final two batters to end the fifth.
“There’s a video on-line and he [Baker] looked like a decent pitcher,” said Wolf, who had two singles. “He has a nasty curveball, and coach told us, ‘If you see fastball, don’t miss it.’ I got a fastball and didn’t miss.”
Baker walked Steve Ruger to start the Thomas Edison fifth, and Steve Sawyer reached on an infield error to send Ruger to third.
After Sawyer stole second with one down, Brown hit a grounder toward third and Hanifin fired home, and Ruger scored sliding in when Hudyncia could not hold on to the ball. Zach Levandowski followed with an infield single to load the bases, setting the stage for Wolf’s key blow.
Cutspec singled and stole second with one down in the Fort Plain fifth before Brown got a flyout and strikeout. The Hilltoppers mounted another threat in the sixth when Hanifin hit a two-out single and Ryan Kane walked, but Brown ended that inning with another strikeout. Brown fanned two more in the seventh, sandwiched around a flyball out.
Baker allowed six singles, struck out 12, walked two and hit four batters in losing for the first time this year after 11 wins, including no-hitters against Duanesburg in the Section II Class C final and Ticonderoga in the regional semifinals. The senior went 28-4 over the last three years, and was on the winning end of both final four games a year ago.
Following an hour-log rain delay, Baker ran into trouble in the fourth, with a two-out error, a walk and a hit batter loading the bases before the Mohawk Valley-bound senior recorded a strikeout.
Baker struck out three Spartans looking in the second inning.
Keio Academy (Section 18-11) beat Honeoye (Section V, 24-6) in the other Class C semifinal, 9-0,
before winning its first title at Thomas Edison’s expense, 6-3. Thomas Edison finished at 22-5.
LaSalle (27-1), which came in ranked No. 1 in the state, lost to
Mamaroneck in a Class AA semifinal, 7-5. Mamaroneck (Section I, 30-2) won the championship with a 6-3 victory over Massapequa (Section VIII, 23-7-1).
Chatham (26-4) lost to JFK Catholic (Section I, 27-3) in the state Class B title game, 5-3. Chatham advanced with a 3-1, 10-inning triumph over CBA-Syracuse (Section III, 24-5).
Thomas Edison 000 040 0 — 4 6 1
Fort Plain 100 000 0 — 1 7 2
Brown and Bellinger; Baker and Hudyncia.
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