Sectional Baseball: Hilltoppers after ninth title

After compiling 657 victories in 36 years of coaching high school baseball, Fort Plain coach Craig P

After compiling 657 victories in 36 years of coaching high school baseball, Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips isn’t sure how many more seasons he has left in the dugout.

He’s actually pondering the idea of moving to Florida, so he doesn’t have to deal with the harsh, damp weather of the Northeast.

But the competitive fire still burns brightly for the veteran coach, and he admits that winning a ninth Section II championship would still get his blood pumping.

Phillips and his 17-3 Hilltoppers meet 8-6 Warrensburg in the Class C championship game today at 4 at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy.

Although Phillips already has led the Hilltoppers to championships in 1981, 1987 and 1997 at the Class D level and in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 in Class C, he never takes anything for granted.

“I know the coach [Rex Reynolds] at Warrensburg. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time, and he’s slowly built a program. We fear them because he is so aggressive offensively,” said Phillips, whose team won the state Class C crown in 2007.

“Warrensburg likes to steal bases and even try back-to-back suicide squeezes. They like to play a lot of small ball, which I enjoy doing myself. But with this team, we didn’t really have to do much of that this season.”

Phillips has one of his most versatile and talented teams this season, especially on the mound. Fort Plain has a sparkling team earned run average of 1.89. None of his six pitchers have more than 48 innings.

“We’ve definitely got some good pitching this year, highlighted by Jabin Weaver,” he said. “Weaver is having a great year, but all of our pitchers’ innings are down, also. This year, our innings leader has more than 40, but I’ve had teams where we had two pitchers with more than 100 innings apiece. I didn’t know any better back then. I’ve realized over the years that you need to develop a lot of pitching to be successful.”

Weaver has an 8-1 record with a 1.75 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 48 innings, but he’s not the only talented arm on the staff.

Brent Baker (2-1, 2.62 ERA), Marcus Failing (3-1, 2.10 ERA), Chris Hanifan (2-0, 1.14 ERA) and Dylan Pechtel (3-0, 1.57 ERA) are each more than capable. In fact, Phillips said he most likely will start Pechtel against the Burgers today because he has had the most rest. Weaver, Baker and/or Failing will be ready in relief.

“It all depends on how the game goes,” Phillips said. “My original plan was to have Jabin Weaver ready for this game. We thought about pitching by committee against Salem, but it was a close game, and we were up only 3-1, so I went with Jabin for six innings. It ruined my plan of attack for this game.”

The Hilltoppers also have a solid lineup that includes five players with at least 20 RBI.

Weaver tops the team with a .522 batting average and 28 RBI. Baker is next with a .512 average, 27 RBI and 13 stolen bases.

Other leading hitters for the Hilltoppers include Harold Dettmer (.415, 17 RBI, 13 stolen bases), Jack Ray (.443, 21 RBI), Pechtel (.443, 20 RBI), Hanifan (.355, 20 RBI), Ashton Parker (.369, 17 RBI) and Kris Downes (.393, 15 RBI). The Hilltoppers have a .423 team batting average.

“I’m very proud of our accomplishments. We have a lot of good kids,” said Phillips. “Eight out of 10 from the basketball team I coached this winter are playing baseball for me. We have kids who are not emotional leaders, but who are always there. They work hard, and they’re friends. They all wear Mohawk haircuts, which is kind of a tradition.

“The last thing I told them after practice today was that some people are just happy to be here. It will be a disappointment if we don’t win. This might be our last chance for a sectional title. I may walk after the season. I know my two assistants, who have helped us win so many games over the years, are thinking about leaving. We know each other very well.

“There aren’t too many things that get me excited any more, but if we win [today], I guarantee I’ll be excited,” he said.

Categories: High School Sports

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