Play to your strengths.
In Fort Plain’s case, it’s speed, and the young Hilltoppers used their fast feet and a clutch hit to beat Schoharie Monday for coach Craig Phillips’ 700th victory.
“That’s our motto. Find a way,” junior Kiernan Briggs said after Fort Plain’s 6-5, nine-inning Western Athletic Conference comeback win. “We may not be the biggest team, but we’re quick, and we’ll do whatever we have to to win a game.”
Alex Bleichner singled, took second on a passed ball and stole third to set the wheels in motion for a three-run Hilltoppers’ ninth. Briggs capped the uprising with a two-out, full-count, run-scoring single to the right-center gap.
“It’s something about Fort Plain kids. They don’t quit,” said Phillips, whose 39th
edition is off to a 4-0 start with three WAC wins. “We may not always have the most talented kids, but they find a way.”
The Hilltoppers did that for Phillips’ milestone win despite getting one hit through the first eight innings and committing three errors.
They kept it close with several key defensive plays, including Bleichner’s fourth-inning throw from center field that nailed a runner at the plate, a fifth-inning double play and a successful rundown between home and third that ended the eighth.
“We knew this day would come at some point,” said Briggs. “We weren’t going to let it slip away. We’d do anything for coach.”
The area’s all-time winningest coach signed baseballs after the game for each of his players, joked with the media members on hand, discussed his team and the game, and eventually touched on his fabulous career that includes 22 league, nine Section II and four regional championships. His 2007 squad won the state Class C title.
“A lot of bus rides. A lot of car rides. Lots of raffles. Lots of horse crap, but the sound of the ball hitting the bat … it’s fun,” said the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame member. “That’s why I keep coming back.”
Fort Plain battled back from a 5-3 deficit after Schohare (2-1, 2-1) pushed a pair of runs across in the top of the ninth when Dev Brooks and Braden Guernsey were hit by bases loaded pitches from Eric Orologio. Fort Plain trailed earlier, 1-0 and 3-1.
“We lost seven seniors. We’re young, but it’s a great bunch of kids who work hard,” said Phillips. “When we started, I didn’t think this team would make the sectionals, but I’m starting to think differently. They’re showing me something.”
After Bleichner reached third in the Fort Plain ninth, James May walked and stole second, and pinch-hitter Andrew Hanifin drew a walk to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Cody Logan got a run home on a fielder’s choice, Aiden Van Loan delivered another with a suicide squeeze and after Logan stole third, Briggs singled.
“You never think that’s going to happen. Today, it happened. I’m speechless. It’s crazy,” Briggs said of his game-winning hit. “Without that huge bunt by Aidan and the work of the guys coming off the bench, that would not have happened.”
Brooks took the loss after some superb work earlier in the game by the junior. In the eighth, Briggs led off with a walk and stole second and third, and Brooks escaped the jam, with a popout, groundout and one of his seven strikeouts.
“My other two pitchers are eighth-graders,” said Schoharie coach Lenny Coons. “I didn’t want to put either of them in that situation, so I kept him [Brooks] in there. He has a lot of heart.”
Schoharie took a 3-1 lead in the third on RBI singles by Steve Brooks and Noah Valvo. Fort Plain got a run back in the home third on an RBI single by Jesse Heroth, and tied the game in the sixth on a bases loaded strikeout-passed ball.
Schoharie had beaten Fort Plain in 2009 when Phillips made his first bid for 600 wins. Fort Plain knocked off St. Johnsville in its next outing to reach the special number when Mark Hanifin and Dan Wiecek combined on a no-hitter.
“The other time we beat him,” said Coons. “It didn’t work out today. Almost.”
Schoharie 012 000 002 — 5 6 1
Fort Plain 011 001 003 — 6 3 3
Brown, D. Brooks (6) and Barton; Orologio, Bleichner (7), Orologio (8), Bleichner (9) and Fureno.