AMSTERDAM — Matt Toy was just trying to add a bit more to Union College’s lead when he connected for a three-run home run in the first inning of Wednesday’s Liberty League semifinal game with Ithaca College.
“It was situational baseball,” said Toy, a senior catcher and Niskayuna High School graduate. “Get something you can elevate and get a guy in.”
A lot of Union guys ended up getting in, including five in that first inning and five in the Dutchmen’s final at-bat as part of an 18-9 victory at Shuttleworth Park.
“It was definitely important to set the tone,” Toy said.
Union (No. 2 seed, 12-7) scored runs in each of its first five at-bats before the put-away eighth, and extended its win streak to five heading into Saturday’s league championship game at Rochester (No. 1, 23-8).
Union sent nine men to the plate in the first, sent eight to the plate in a four-run fourth, and 10 Dutchmen took their cuts in the five-run eighth.
“Our offense is clicking,” Union coach Paul Mound said after his Dutchmen collected 15 hits in the three-hour, 30-minute game. “You saw what we just did. Our offense constantly answered. Every time they put up crooked numbers, we put up crooked numbers.”
Toy added three singles, scored four times and finished with four RBIs while throwing out a pair of base stealers.
“Before this year, he was always a defense-first guy,” Mound said of Toy. “He didn’t play much as a freshman, and as a sophomore and junior, I would platoon him in doubleheaders and pinch-hit for him. Now, you can’t get him out of the lineup. He’s fourth or fifth in the league in batting, and he’s hitting home runs like it’s his job.”
Ithaca starter Buzz Shirley walked the first three batters he faced before Kevin Chaimowitz hit a two-run double. Toy, who said he had never homered at any level before this season, followed with his third blast of this shortened campaign over the left-field wall.
“We are capitalizing on what we’re given,” Union senior second baseman and Shenendehowa High School graduate Joey Palko said of the walks that set up the big first inning. “We were struggling at the beginning of the season and leaving guys on.”
Union swept a four-game set against Bard over the weekend, which included 17 runs in the final game. That was the team’s season-high before Wednesday’s outburst in which Chris O’Brien hit a two-run homer and an RBI single, Jack Koch hit a two-run single and an RBI triple and Palko hit two RBI singles.
“All season, it’s been tough to get in a rhythm because we just played on weekends,” Toy said. “It helped that this past weekend we were able to play both Saturday and Sunday and then Wednesday.”
“We’re getting hot at the right time with our hitting and pitching, and on defense, we’re not giving up any bases,” Palko said.
Union did not commit an error, while Ithaca (No. 3, 16-12-1) made four, and the walk ratio was 12-4 in the Dutchmen’s favor as James Salemme, Chris Murdock and Ben Mlavsky combined for pitching duties. Murdock got the win by allowing one run in an inning and a third, and Mlavsky got a save by allowing two runs over four innings.
“Our pitching staff is a little beat up,” Mound said. “I’m most proud of the way they fought, and fought hard. That’s all I can ask for.”
Matt Fabian homered as part of a four-run fourth that pulled Ithaca within 8-6. In the bottom half, Union countered with four runs when O’Brien launched his two-run homer.
“They put up a four-spot, and that put them back in the game,” said Palko, who’s RBI single capped Union’s four-run answer. “We put up four and took them out of the game. That was a huge momentum swing.”
A solo home run by Shirley got Ithaca within 13-9 in the seventh, and Union extended its advantage in the eight, with Toy hitting an RBI single early in that last uprising and Koch hitting a two-run single to cap it.
Palko started a 4-6-3 double play in the ninth, and was the middle man in a 6-4-3 double play in the seventh.
Rochester defeated Clarkson (No. 4, 14-16-1) in Wednesday’s other league semifinal 13-8. Union and Rochester have not met this season.
“Rochester is a good baseball team,” Toy said. “It’s going to come down to who plays cleaner baseball and gets the clutch hits.”
Ithaca 002 402 100 — 9 11 4
Union 512 410 05x — 18 15 0
Shirley, Hammel (3), Trippi (5), Nicholson (8) and Merod; Salemme, Murdock (4), Mlavsky (6) and Toy.