Eighth-grader Rodriguez delivers in the clutch as Saratoga Springs rallies to sweep Section II Class AA championship series

Saratoga Springs' Noah Joly, left, jumps and bumps Patrick Deschaine after the Blue Streaks captured the Section II Class AA title, winning the best of three series versus Shaker at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium Friday, May 27, 2022 in Troy.
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Saratoga Springs' Noah Joly, left, jumps and bumps Patrick Deschaine after the Blue Streaks captured the Section II Class AA title, winning the best of three series versus Shaker at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium Friday, May 27, 2022 in Troy.

TROY — Saratoga Springs eighth-grader Raul Rodriguez didn’t play his first varsity baseball game until April 21, when he was called up from junior varsity for a game against Albany — and promptly went 5 for 5.

Five weeks later, in the biggest spot of the Blue Streaks’ season, there was nobody that head coach Andy Cuthbertson would’ve rather seen stepping to the plate.

“When I saw him coming up to the plate with a guy in scoring position, it made me take a deep breath,” Cuthbertson said. “I just felt like he was going to do it. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

Rodriguez — who, an inning earlier, had come an errant throw away from hitting into a triple play — dug in against Shaker pitcher Andrew Dongelewic with a runner on third and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning Friday night in Game 2 of the Section II Class AA championship series at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

Facing a two-strike count, the middle-schooler was unflappable well beyond his years and punched a line drive that fell in front of Shaker centerfielder Preston Frazier for an RBI single that brought home Michael Mack with the go-ahead run as Saratoga Springs rallied for a 7-6 win and a sweep in the first-ever Section II baseball championship determined with a best-of-three series.

“When I got down 0-2,” Rodriguez said, “I just stayed relaxed.”

At this point, Saratoga Springs — which was coming off a dramatic 7-4, 12-inning win Wednesday night in the first game of the series — is beginning to expect performances like this from the eighth-grade dynamo.

“It’s crazy,” said Saratoga Springs senior Zander Teator, who earned the win in relief. “It’s like he’s been there thousands of times. It’s ridiculous.”

The broader Section II baseball community has quickly taken notice, too.

“I make scouting reports on every single hitter, our pitching coach does the same. [Rodriguez] has no pattern,” Shaker head coach Joe Rispole said. “I’m looking at my daughter, who’s in eighth grade, and I’m like, ‘There’s no way a 12-, 13-year-old kid should be hitting like that, leading off for the Section II championship team.’ He’s a talent.”

Saratoga Springs advances to the state tournament, where it will play a regional final against a Section III opponent on June 4 at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam.

Rodriguez’s go-ahead hit capped off a four-run sixth as Saratoga Springs (No. 7 seed, 18-7 overall) rallied to regain control of the game after Shaker (No. 4, 14-10) had gone ahead 6-2 with a five-run rally in the fifth against Blue Streaks starting pitcher Michael Mack.

Fittingly, perhaps, Mack played a key role at the plate during the decisive bottom of the sixth. After Saratoga Springs had pulled a run back in the bottom of the fifth, Mack delivered a two-run single in the sixth that made it 6-5. Then, after a wild pitch allowed Charles DeRizzo to score the tying run, it was Mack who scored the go-ahead run on Rodriguez’s base hit.

“I felt like I had to do it for our team, our seniors,” Mack said.

The rally was redemption for Mack and the Blue Streaks after Shaker’s eruption in the fifth, which saw Mack struggle with his control and lose a Dom Aquino pop-up in the lights that ended up dropping for a two-run single.

Saratoga Springs got a break of its own in the bottom of the fifth. With two on and nobody out, Rodriguez ripped a line drive to third base that Shaker third baseman Sam Case snagged. With both Blue Streaks baserunners caught in no-man’s land, Shaker nearly turned the situation into a triple play, but the final relay to first sailed into the Shaker dugout, allowing Ben McKinley to head to third base. McKinley scored on an RBI single from Noah Joly — who went 2 for 4 with two RBIs — and the Blue Streaks were back in business.

“We kept our breath in and just stayed locked in,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t use that as play to put us down. We used it as a motivator.”

Teator, who came on to relieve Mack and escape the jam in the fifth, retired seven of the eight batters he faced to earn the win, throwing a high fastball past Aquino to set off Saratoga Springs’ celebration with a game-ending strikeout.

It continued a magical, underdog postseason for Saratoga Springs. A day earlier, the Blue Streaks’ softball team, also seeded No. 7 in its bracket, pulled off an upset of its own when it took down Shenendehowa to win its own Section II Class AA title.

“The girls got it down as the seven seed, we got it done as the seven seed,” Cuthbertson said. “I’ve said before, it doesn’t matter if you’re the one or the eight. . . . We really kept the seeding out of it.”

“Winning it the way we won it,” Teator said, “just feels great.”

Shaker 100 050 0 — 6 5 3

Saratoga Springs 200 014 x — 7 9 0

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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