Saratoga Central Catholic baseball coach Phonsey Lambert has a deep pitching staff.
But there was no doubt who he was handing the ball to Friday in the Saints’ biggest game of the season. And Dylan Anderson didn’t let his coach down.
The junior gave up just three hits, his teammates got him a first-inning run and Chris Pescetti delivered a big sixth-inning run as the Saints beat Fort Plain, 2-0, to wrap up the Western Athletic Conference North Division title.
“He was on the mound in the sectional final for us last year. He’s our big game guy,” said Lambert, whose team is the defending Class B champion. “Some people thought we might not pitch him today, but he’s too effective.
“He’s a calm kid, and the team feels anytime he pitches, we’ve got a real good chance to win.”
The victory was Saratoga Catholic’s 15th straight overall since a season-opening loss to Fonda, and put the Saints (11-1 league) into Tuesday’s crossover against the second-place team from the South. It also dropped the 9-3 Hilltoppers into third place behind 10-2 Fonda-Fultonville, leaving them no chance to win the league’s playoff title.
“The better team won,” said Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips. “We didn’t hit the ball. If our first five guys don’t hit, we’re not going to win.”
Anderson used his curve to set up his fastball, retiring the leadoff batter in five of the seven innings.
“I thought the key really was Anderson getting the leadoff hitter,” Lambert said. “Craig is a good tactician, and they can play small ball a little bit. But we took a little bit of that strategy away by getting the leadoff hitter.”
Anderson gave up two long fly balls in the first inning — an out off the bat of Evan Yacowenia and Tyler Barhydt’s two-out double. The Saints outfielders made just two putouts after the first inning.
Anderson also got a big assist from catcher Jack Keller, who picked Jabin Weaver off first base after the Fort Plain pitcher opened the second inning with a single.
“Jabin was just getting a good secondary lead, and against anybody in the league you can [usually] get that,” Phillips said.
“It’s like nobody knows about him,” said Lambert, not at all surprised by his catcher. “He’s hitting .500 and he takes away the opponent’s running game. And he got a big hit today.”
The pickoff preserved the 1-0 lead the Saints got in the first inning when Billy McDonough led off with a double and came around on an error two batters later.
“He works the count. His pitch selection is very good,” said Lambert of his leadoff hitter and shortstop. “And he hits in the gaps. I think he’s led off seven or eight games with doubles.”
Anderson protected that lead fiercely, retiring seven straight hitters without the ball leaving the infield until No. 9 hitter Greg Costello singled to open the home sixth. Three more ground balls, and Anderson was back in the visitors’ dugout.
Pescetti had given him another run to work with in the top of the sixth, singling through the right side to score Keller, who had doubled.
Anderson got the side in the seventh, and the Saints had the division title and a home game in Tuesday’s crossover opener.
“That’s something we really wanted to do,” Lambert said of winning the division. “It’s something we haven’t done in a few years.
“We’re in a very, very tough division. We dropped an early one to Fonda, then they knock off Fort Plain and you have to play catch up the rest of the year. But we did, and won some big games.”
“We should have scored in the first when Tyler doubled,” said Phillips. “Then Jabin got picked, and that hurt us. I thought in the sixth inning, we had to do it. Greg singled, and if we could have gotten Brent on to set the table for the other three. maybe.
“You usually have two or three chances in a game, and we had our two or three chances. We just didn’t take advantage of them.
“Sometimes, you learn more from losing than you do from winning. Hopefully, we learn from this and can do some damage in the sectionals.”
Saratoga Catholic 100 001 0 — 2 6 0
Fort Plain 000 000 0 — 1 3 1
Anderson and Keller; Weaver and Ray.