Dave Rider was willing to take a gamble.
One day removed from a tough, 10-inning 1-0 loss to Lansingburgh, the Albany Academy baseball coach wasn’t going to let a potential win against Mechanicville get away on Monday.
His solution: Give a pitcher coming back from arm trouble the ball to get the final two outs with his team clinging to a 5-3 lead. And it just happened to be said pitcher’s first time on the mound this season.
Trevor Francesconi got the job done, trading an out for a run on a ground ball before getting the final out to preserve a 5-4 Colonial Council victory.
“We lost a tough game yesterday,” said Rider. “Every game is important.”
Francesconi moved to the mound from shortstop as he made his season debut as a pitcher.
“He’s thrown some in the bullpen, but this is the first time he’s thrown off the mound,” said Rider. “He probably would have been our No. 1 starter. We’re trying to work him back into the rotation.”
Francesconi came on with runners at the corners and one out. He got Nico Dumas to ground to second, but the Mechanicville shortstop hustled down the line to prevent a double play and keep the game alive, his team now one run down.
Francesconi got Nate Popiel to fly out to end the game, ending a frustrating game for the Red Raiders’ pitcher.
Popiel gave up just six hits, walked four (one intentionally) and struck out 13. But, as has happened before this season, was tagged with a tough loss, despite allowing only one earned run.
“He’s pitched in tough luck all year,” said first-year Mechanicville coach Tim Sheehan. “He lost, 1-0, to Schalmont when he threw a one-hitter.”
“It’s fun,” said Popiel, referring to the challenge of keeping his team in the game. “I just have to rely on my teammates. It’s not just a pitcher-against-pitcher battle.”
Both Popiel and Academy’s Carter Knapek settled in after the Cadets took a 3-2 lead after two innings.
Knapek gave up seven hits in six innings of work, walking two and striking out 12. Unlike his opposing pitcher, his defense got him out of two jams in the late going.
Catcher Sean Dempsey picked Noah Harpe off third base to end the fourth to preserve a 3-2 lead.
Center fielder Eric Woods threw out Harpe at the plate for the final out in the sixth, ending Mechanicville’s best chance to tie the game.
Woods’ play came when Connor Hunsinger came up with his second hit of the game, a two-out single to center with teammates on first and second.
Going for a chance to tie the game at 4-4, Sheehan waved Harpe home. Woods’ throw to catcher Sean Dempsey was in time.
“I had to send him,” said Sheehan. “This was our best chance to tie the game. I wanted to make them make a play. He [Woods] made a great throw.”
“Eric is a super kid, and it was great for him to make that play,” said Rider. “That turned out to be the play of the game.”
Popiel was in cruise control at that point. He got the final two outs via strikeout in the third, struck out the side in the fourth and fanned the side in order in the fifth.
“Once he settles into a groove, it’s pretty to watch,” said Sheehan of Popiel, who has accepted a scholarship to play baseball at Dominican.
“I struggle a little at the start, find the groove in the middle innings and then want to finish strong,” said Popiel.
Albany Academy added a run to make it 5-3 in the top of the seventh, courtesy of two Mechanicville errors.
Dumas misplayed a ball hit by Francesconi after Dempsey led off the inning with a single. Sheehan had Popiel intentionally walk Knapek, the Cadets’ cleanup hitter, to load the bases.
Popiel got his 12th strikeout, then got Rory Flaherty to hit back to him. Popiel threw to catcher Peyton Kalteux to get the second out, but when the catcher threw to first to try for the inning-ending double play, the ball sailed into right field as Francesconi crossed the plate with an insurance run.
Rider removed Knapek, but pinch-hitter Eammon Higgins greeted reliever Kyle Hartigan with a single. After a walk and force out, Rider called on Francesconi.
“[Knapek] was at his limit, he had thrown around 100 pitches,” said Rider. “He did a good job.”
The win put the Cadets at 7-2 in league play, 8-2 overall. Mechanicville is now 4-6, 5-8.
Albany Academy 210 001 1 — 5 6 1
Mechanicville 110 001 1 — 4 8 5
C. Knapek, Hartigan (7), Francesconi (7) and Dempsey; Popiel and Kalteux.