Marcus Failing was one amped-up baseball player Friday, and an awfully effective one when it counted the most.
“I won’t lie to you. I threw up twice. Before the game and when I scored,” said Fort Plain’s senior lefty. “I was so excited. I wanted to win so bad.”
Failing ended up doing so, working his way through a series of jams in the Hilltoppers’ 5-2 victory over Western Athletic Conference rival Saratoga Central Catholic.
Failing also hit a run-scoring double, and Trenton Douglas had two singles and three RBI as Fort Plain remained undefeated (11-0, 12-0) and dealt Saratoga Catholic its first WAC setback (9-1, 10-2) in a contest matching state-ranked teams at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
“We didn’t play great defense, but it was good enough. We pitched good enough to win. We didn’t come up with the big hit,” said Saints coach Phonsey Lambert. “A lot of credit goes to the Failing kid. He’s a bulldog out there. He really hung in there.”
Failing pitched three-hit ball and struck out 13, yet also walked six and plunked a batter. The Saints put two more runners aboard on fielding errors.
“When I was a sophomore at their place, I gave up 12 hits and they beat us something like 24-0,” Failing said. “I had a plan and I wanted to dominate.”
At times, Fort Plain’s ace hurler did.
“Marcus is a great pitcher,” Douglas said of his teammate, who has 64 strikeouts in 331⁄3 innings. “He’s come up big in a lot of big games for us.”
A walk, an error and a passed ball put Saratoga Catholic runners on second and third to start the home fifth inning, and Failing escaped the jam with consecutive strikeouts against the heart of the Saints order to preserve a 5-1 lead.
“I had to dig deep and strike those guys out,” said Failing. “When guys are on, you can’t worry about that. You’ve got to get the next batter.”
Failing (5-0) fanned two after a walking a batter and hitting another to begin the sixth. Sean Hart stroked an RBI single for the Saints, and Jake Van Patten got caught in a rundown to end that inning.
“I thought the fifth was bigger than the sixth because of the guys they had coming up,” said Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips. “That was fun to watch.”
Saratoga Catholic stranded nine runners, six of them in scoring position. Cam Coons was one of them, with Failing recording a strikeout after the Saints’ senior had hit an RBI triple to deep center to make it a 1-1 game in the third.
Fort Plain responded with three runs in the fourth against Saints’ ace Jesse Winters (2-1). Winters had pitched a no-hitter last week in a 13-0 victory over Duanesburg.
“We knew he had a good breaking pitch,” said Douglas, a senior third baseman. “We were taking the curve and sitting on his fastball. We had his number today.”
Dakota Nemecek and Zack Sweet hit one-out singles in the Fort Plain fourth, Failing followed with an RBI double, and Douglas dropped a two-run single into center. Nemecek’s sacrifice fly in the fifth made it 5-1.
Sweet doubled and scored on Douglas’ two-out single in the second. Eighth-grade leadoff batter Drew Fureno also had two hits for the Hilltoppers, a pair of singles.
“You try to tell them that it’s just another game,” said Phillips. “They know it’s not. This is a big one for us.”
Fort Plain gained a leg up in the race for the WAC Northern Division title. The Hilltoppers and Saints shared the division top spot last season.
“We look forward to playing these guys. Every year it’s always a battle,” said Douglas. “Today was another good game.”
Phillips’ Hilltoppers and Lambert’s Saints have met 85 times since 1990, when Saratoga Catholic joined the old Tri-Valley League. Fort Plain took a 43-42 edge in the series with Friday’s triumph.
“That’s a good team. They’ll probably pound us the next time we play,” Phillips said with a laugh.
Fort Plain 010 310 0 — 5 8 4
Saratoga Catholic 001 001 0 — 2 3 1
Failing and Sweet; Winters, Moline (5) and Czarnecki.