The New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s all-time leader in baseball wins coached his final game Tuesday afternoon.
Craig Phillips, who announced earlier this year that the 2021 season would be his last, watched his top-seeded Fort Plain team struggle at the plate and on the mound in a 7-2 Section II Class C first-round loss to Stillwater on the field that bears his name.
Over the years, the 70-year-old Phillips often said he would retire at the end of a season, but never did. He confirmed Tuesday, though, that this season was his last leading the Hilltoppers.
“I’ve retired seven times,” said Phillips, who took over the Fort Plain program in 1975. “This is the final time.”
Known for his quick wit and extensive knowledge of the game, Phillips guided his teams to 806 wins, and his Hilltoppers lost only 229 times in a remarkable run. His teams never had a losing season, including this year’s No. 1 Class C seeded group that closed out at 12-2 after Stillwater (No. 16 seed, 8-9) pulled off a stunner.
“I remember all the car washes and all the bottle drives,” Phillips reminisced. “It had to come to an end some time.”
It was a difficult way to go out, with Stillwater scoring its runs on wild pitches and bases-loaded walks from Troy Butler and Evan Crouse. At the plate, the Hilltoppers managed three singles, from Butler, Crouse and Manley Baker.
“If you don’t hit and don’t put the ball in play, you aren’t going to win games,” Phillips said.
So many of his teams swung big bats and had superb pitching, and the result was 26 league crowns, 12 Section II titles, six regional flags, and state championships in 2007 (Class C) and 2016 (Class D). Fort Plain won its last Section II title with Phillips in 2019.
“It was a great career,” said Phillips, a member of the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame. “I had a lot of great coaches. I worked with a lot of special people.”
Phillips got his 800th win earlier in the season at Mayfield, marking the final milestone in a career full of them.
“That was an incredible day,” Phillips said.
On Tuesday, the Hilltoppers surrendered four runs in the sixth inning and another in the seventh after the teams had played to a 2-2 tie through five innings. Jaxon Mueller, the son of UAlbany baseball coach John Mueller, doubled in the sixth inning and scored the tie-breaking run when Butler unleashed a wild pitch on an attempted squeeze bunt by Mike Campione.
“When you’re going against the No. 1 seed, you’ve got to throw the sink at them,” Stillwater coach Marcus Harder said.
Shea Brown excelled for Stillwater on the mound, allowing two hits over 5 2-3 innings with 11 strikeouts..
“Fantastic win,” said Harder, whose Warriors beat Berne-Knox-Westerlo Monday 6-4 in a play-in game. “It’s a big step forward for Stillwater baseball.”
Harder and Phillips embraced following the game.
“We had a very heartfelt moment,” Harder said. “He was very gracious and very humble, and knowing that he’s retiring, I felt really bad for him. I told him, ‘You are a hall of famer, wherever you go.’”
“The Stillwater people showed such class,” Phillips said. “The Mueller kid came up and congratulated me, and said how much I meant to Section II baseball, and then the whole team came out.”
Stillwater 000 204 1 — 7 4 1
Fort Plain 200 000 0 — 2 3 0