The rivalry between the Fort Plain and Saratoga Central Catholic baseball teams is handed down from graduating seniors to underclassmen.
The youngsters apparently learned well, as the teams — both unbeaten in league play — staged another classic in Monday’s first game of a Western Athletic Conference double-header at Veterans Memorial Park.
Tyler Marsh gave the Hilltoppers a 5-4 win in the bottom of the seventh inning when he dumped a two-run single into short right field. Fort Plain, the home team in the first game, had just seen the Saints come off the deck to score twice in both the sixth and seventh innings.
The Saints responded with a 7-3 win in the second game, leaving both teams at 12-1 in the league.
“That’s the situation you want to be in when you play,” said Marsh. “I knew I needed to put the ball in play.”
“If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we would be 13-0 [12-0 league] at this point in the year, I would have said, ‘No way,’ ” said veteran Hilltoppers coach Craig Phillips, who has just one senior on his roster, after the first game. “We graduated six seniors. Most of these kids didn’t play much.
“But the thing I admire most about this group is they never give up. That’s about the fifth time we’ve come back like that this year.”
“That’s how we’ve played all year,” said winning pitcher Jesse Heroth, a sophomore whom Phillips promoted to varsity as an eighthy-grader. “We had one more chance [in the seventh inning].”
Catcher and leadoff hitter Drew Fureno greeted relief pitcher Joe Schmidt with a single to open the home seventh, and Heroth, who had singled home the game’s first run in the fourth inning, followed with a single through the left side.
Saints coach Phonsey Lambert had Schmidt walk Kiernan Briggs to load the bases. Schmidt struck out senior cleanup hitter Eric Orolgio, but walked Jim May on a 3-2 pitch to tie the game. Marsh then delivered the winning run.
“I changed my approach when I saw the curve ball,” said the junior, who got enough of the pitch to get it over the infield. “I knew when I hit it that it was going to drop in.”
“He’d been in a slump, and we’d been working with him,” said Phillips.
“We just never give up. We always keep fighting,” said Fureno, who scored one of two runs that gave the Hilltoppers a 3-0 lead heading into the sixth inning.
Second baseman Aiden VanLoan, who turned in a terrific defensive play to end the Spa Catholic fifth, opened the home fifth with a triple. Kiernan Briggs scored him with a push bunt to the first base side, and Orolgio singled home Fureno with two out to give Fort Plain a 3-0 lead.
Saratoga Catholic got to within a run in the sixth when starting pitcher Owen O’Reilly was hit by a pitch, took second on Jacob VanPatten’s double and scored on a fly ball off the bat of Michael Naughton.
VanPatten moved to third on that sacrifice fly, and scored when No. 9 hitter Colin Bradley also lofted a sac fly.
The Saints went up, 4-3, in the seventh when O’Reilly flared a two-run, two-out single to left.
“We’ve played some classics, and there have been some blowouts, but when we play, it always seems its for a title,” said Phillips.
“I thought Owen pitched a good game,” said Lambert. “I was very comfortable with Joey in there. I don’t think we were as selective at the plate as we should have been.
“That’s the way our games [with Fort Plain] seem to go.”
Schmidt came back and threw a five-hit, complete game in the second game, striking out eight. The Hilltoppers had the leadoff hitter get on base in five of the seven innings, but Schmidt didn’t allow more than one run in any inning.
Kyle Bailey had three hits, and Tim Brizzell hit a key two-rune double in a five-run fourth for the Saints.
“The kids came back and played with some energy after a tough loss,” Lambert said.
Saratoga Catholic 000 002 2 — 4 7 1
Fort Plain 001 020 2 — 5 9 0
O’Reilly, Schmidt (7) and Czarnecki; Heroth and Fureno.
Fort Plain 011 100 0 — 3 5 1
Saratoga Catholic 001 500 x — 7 9 3
Orolgio, Hart (4), Kennedy (6) and Fureno; Schmidt and Czarnecki.