CLIFTON PARK — When you play high school baseball in New York State, the word Binghamton is synonymous with just one thing — the state championship.
Last Saturday, the Shenendehowa baseball team mounted a remarkable comeback against Section 3’s Liverpool in the regional championship game, advancing to the NYSPHSAA Class AA semifinals for the first time since 2019.
“It was a great comeback win,” Shenendehowa left fielder Jason Clawson said. “Even being down in the bottom of the fifth, I just knew we were going to come back. We’ve been coming back all year and it was a great team win.”
Senior right-hander Nino Salati started the game for the Plainsmen, allowing five hits and one run over four innings, while striking out four.
“We scouted to know who their best hitters were, but it’s a two-way street. They haven’t seen me either,” Salati said. “I thought I located well, and my velocity was where it should be.”
Salati found himself on the mound in the absence of junior ace and Fordham-commit James Redick, who was shut down for the remainder of the season with an injury.
“I actually heard from James first, before the coaches told us anything,” said Salati, who will also start Shenendehowa’s semifinal game on Friday against Section 11’s Commack (23-2).
“In the past, if you dreamed that far ahead, you’d envision James pitching in the semifinal and then if we won, I’d be the championship guy,” Salati said. “Having to get us to the championship is a little different, but I can’t wait to get out there.”
During last week’s regional against Liverpool, the Plainsmen surrendered four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. For Brad Curtis, who came on in relief, just one of those four runs was earned.
“We broke down a little bit in that fifth inning, but Ethan Farina gathered the guys outside the dugout and he got everybody fired up,” Salati said. “We were upset and we were ready to get going, so we punched them back.
“He really brought it to everyone’s attention that it could be the last two innings of our season. We weren’t going down without a fight.”
The Plainsmen responded in the top of the sixth inning with a five-spot, gaining a 6-5 lead. A double from Curtis brought Shenendehowa back within two runs, then Clawson drove in the tying runs on an error by Liverpool.
“We have so much fight in us,” Clawson said. “Losing to ‘Toga [Saratoga Springs] in the playoffs last year, then again during the season, that really lit a fire under our tails to come together. We’ve been coming back all year and we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Evan Kochanskyj then drove in the go-ahead run with a single, as the Plainsmen handed the ball off to RJ Eesel.
“After we scored five, I knew I had to shut them down,” Ensel said. “All game, I was watching them and they had struggled with the fastball inside, so I just lived with that pitch.”
Ensel struck out three over two perfect innings, clinching his team a spot in the Class AA final four.
“He looked super sharp,” Salati said of Ensel. “He didn’t pitch at all during the Saratoga series, so he was fresh and he looked dominant.”
Ensel is quite familiar with Shenendehowa baseball, as his father, Ryan, pitched for the Plainsmen, while his uncle, Sean, was also a key player.
“I’ve heard quite a bit about Shen baseball from them, mostly from my dad,” Ensel said. “He told me about how he was their guy, pitching like every other game on no rest; the pitching rules are a lot different now.”
Shenendehowa (20-6) will take the field on Friday at 5 p.m. at Mirabito Stadium, the home of the New York Mets’ Double-A affiliate, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
“It’s the highest level of baseball in the state, and we’ve got a shot at a state championship,” said Clawson.
Salati also allowed one run over 4 1-3 innings, in the start of the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Section 2 AA championship series against Saratoga Springs.
“We’re just really excited to have the opportunity to keep playing baseball,” Salati said.
Should Shenendehowa advance, they’d play in the state championship game on Saturday at 1 p.m., also at Mirabito Stadium.
On the other side of the bracket, Section 1’s Ketcham will face Section 6’s Lancaster, to determine the state championship matchup.
In 2019, the last time Shenendehowa got to play in Binghamton, the Plainsmen advanced to the state championship game, but eventually fell to Section 5’s McQuaid Jesuit, 5-0.
Shenendehowa last won the state title in 2016, in a 7-6 victory over Section 5’s Webster Schroeder.
“Our coaches tell us that one baserunner in the playoffs is a rally,” said Clawson on what it will take to come out on top. “We’ll take that hit-by-pitch, and it’s going to come down to getting that first guy on to start each inning.”
“We all are confident in Nino,” Ensel said. “We know he’s good enough to get the job done.”