CANAJOHARIE — Jack Montanye needed to find a way out of the top of the first inning.
The Canajoharie junior pitcher ran into trouble immediately in Saturday’s Section II Class C baseball semifinal against Galway, as the first four Golden Eagles hitters all reached base, capped off by a two-run single by Joe Herbst.
With two runners on and nobody out, Montanye desperately needed to escape the jam to avoid the game spiraling out of control early.
“I was just hoping I was either going to get a double play, or force a way out,” Montanye said.
A strikeout of Ryan Pudney started to calm things down, and after Henry Flint singled to load the bases, Montanye worked his way out of trouble with a force play at the plate and a strikeout to limit Galway to two runs.
From that point, Montanye’s confidence never wavered.
“I had confidence the whole way that we were going to win,” he said. “We’ve always fought back. I wasn’t really too worried.”
Montanye settled down the rest of the way, limiting Galway to a run on four hits over the final six innings, and second-seeded Canajoharie gradually took charge of the game, coming away with a 5-3 victory to put the Cougars within one win of the program’s first area championship since 2010.
Canajoharie (No. 2 seed, 14-1 overall) will host Lake George — a 5-4 winner over Chatham in eight innings in Saturday’s other semifinal — in the championship game on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
The Cougars won despite playing without the services of senior Jack Krug, the team’s most valuable player, who pitched a one-hit shutout Thursday in a quarterfinal win over Hoosic Valley before departing for a family trip to Florida.
Krug’s No. 2 jersey was hanging in front of the Canajoharie dugout on Saturday afternoon.
“Being our team MVP and him not being here,” Canajoharie coach Joe Brown said, “these guys stepped up and said, ‘It’s just not him, it’s also the team.’ They wanted to make sure that [Krug] knew they did it for him.”
After Jack Montanye’s first-inning escape, Canajoharie got a run each in the first and second to tie the game, then took the lead in the third on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Zach Suits and an RBI single from Riley Montanye.
Galway (No. 3 seed, 12-4 overall) pulled back a run in the top of the fourth with an Eric Zelezniak RBI single, but Keegan Meyers restored Canajoharie’s two-run lead in the bottom of the frame when he led off with a double, then took advantage of an errant throw on a stolen base attempt to scamper home.
Galway coach Mark Kalinkewicz lamented his team’s missed opportunities to put more runs on the board, especially early in the game.
“We thought this year was our year,” Kalinkewicz said. “We had everything in place. We just didn’t play our best game.”
Following Galway’s run in the fourth, Jack Montanye was on cruise control until the seventh, when Brendan Shader reached on an error and Zelezniak was hit by a pitch to put the potential tying runs on base with nobody out.
Then, it fell to Canajoharie’s defense to put the game away.
Both Herbst and Pudney hit the ball hard, but Herbst’s liner to center was snagged by a lunging Meyers, then Pudney’s sharp grounder to shortstop was fielded by Chance Petteys to start a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Lake George earned its spot in the final by rallying from a 4-1 deficit to beat Chatham. The Warriors scored twice in the top of the seventh inning to tie the game, and Matt Syvertsen — who homered earlier in the game — provided the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth.
CANAJOHARIE 5, GALWAY 3
Galway 200 100 0 — 3 8 3
Canajoharie 112 100 x — 5 8 1
LAKE GEORGE 5, CHATHAM 4
LG 000 101 21 — 5 4 0
Chatham 003 010 00 — 4 9 1