Columbia junior A.J. Maney was determined to finish Friday night’s Section II Class AA championship baseball game at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, and with an opposite-field liner in the ninth inning, he did.
“I was completely focused. The ball looked this big,” Maney said after driving John Stanley home with the deciding run in a 3-2 victory over Shenendehowa. “I was battling and fouling off pitch after pitch. I got a pitch, and put it in play.”
Tyler Hart’s two-out throwing error in the seventh cost Columbia the lead before the Blue Devils pulled out their second comeback win over Shenendehowa this season, and secured their third Class AA flag since 2004.
Connor Ramon went the distance for Columbia (No. 2 seed, 18-4), Hart and Ian Castle hit run-scoring singles and Stanley tripled before scoring on Maney’s liner off the glove of diving Shenendehowa first baseman Tyler Vyce.
“On the football field, they killed us in the Super Bowl. They beat us in wrestling,” said Maney, Columbia’s designated hitter. “We didn’t want to let that happen again, not for a third time.”
Stanley took Miles Kelly’s second pitch of the ninth inning deep to right field to set the stage for Columbia’s win, and another difficult sectional loss for the Plainsmen (No. 4, 16-6). Kelly had thrown four straight hitless innings prior to Stanley’s bomb to the fence.
“We started noticing he was throwing more fastballs,” said Stanley, a senior center fielder. “If he threw me one waist high and inside, I was going to drive it. I got my pitch.”
“We were in the dugout saying it’s meant to be,” Maney said. “I knew John was going to do that.”
Maney got Stanley home when his liner glanced off Vyce’s glove, and second baseman Nick Giunta grabbed the ball and threw home late.
“I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else up there but A.J.,” said Hart, one of a dozen seniors on the Columbia roster. “He was due, and he came through.”
“That’s the character of their team. Five or six times, they’ve come back in the late innings to win,” said Shenendehowa coach Jim Carrese. “They found a way.”
Since winning Class A titles in 1994 and 1996, Shenendehowa has suffered a series of heartbreaking sectional defeats including one-run, extra-inning setbacks against Colonie and LaSalle in the 2006 and 2005 Class AA finals. Shenendehowa’s 2011 season ended in the semifinals on a costly seventh-inning error, in a one-run loss to Colonie.
“When you have that many hits , you usually score some runs. We had our opportunities,” said Carrese. “Credit Ramon. He bulldogged for nine innings.”
Ramon (9-0) pitched a perfect ninth, ending it with his sixth strikeout, before his teammates capped the battle between the Suburban Council’s division winners.
“You’ve got to love it that these guys keep picking each other up,” said Columbia coach Chris Dedrick, after his team’s third one-run win in the tournament. “They’re amazing.”
“We’ve been playing together since Little League,” said Stanley. “That’s what we were raised to do.”
Vyce began the Shenendehowa seventh with an infield single, and pinch-runner Ryan Buss stole second with one down and took third on a groundout. Buss scored the tying run on Hart’s thowing error that occured when the shortstop fielded Giunta’s grounder and threw a low ball that Tim Gaule couldn’t glove.
“It’s about not getting rattled,” said Dedrick. “If you mess up a ball, want the next one. That’s what we live by.”
Maney opened Columbia’s fourth with a single, and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout, before Castle blooped an opposite-field single down the line in right to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 advantage.
Giunta just cleared the left-field fence for a solo homer in the Shenendehowa third, and Columbia tied the game in the bottom half when Tyler Casavant hit a lead-off single, moved up on a groundout and passed ball, and Hart smacked an RBI single through the middle.
Mike Cuttita singled with one down in the Shenendehowa sixth, Matt Drum lined a double into the right-center gap, and a perfect Stanley-to-Casavant-to-Ryan Henchey relay play nailed Cuttita at home. After Chris Miller singled Drum to third, Mller got into an intentional run-down, but was tagged out before Drum broke for home.
“That ball was all the way to the wall,” Carrese said, when asked about sending Cuttita home. “There’s got to be throw and catch, throw and catch to get him, and they executed.”
Kelly took his first loss (9-1) with a five-hit, eight-strikeout, no-walk performance. The senior set a school record for single-season wins Tuesday when the Plainsmen beat Niskayuna in the semifinals. Ramon walked only two in the matchup of aces.
Columbia will host the Section III (Syracuse area) champion in a regional final Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
Shenendehowa 001 000 100 — 2 10 2
Columbia 001 100 001 — 3 5 1
Kelly and Cuttita; Ramon and Henchey.