It took a big swing to separate No. 9 Guilderland from No. 8 Saratoga Springs on Tuesday.
That big swing started from the shoulder of Brandon Rathwell, who sent an 0-1 fastball from Blue Streaks starter Jack Herman over the right-field fence in the top of the seventh inning, giving the Dutchmen a 2-1 win in the first round of the Section II Class AA baseball tournament.
“My eyes lit up,” said Rathwell, who let out a yell to chase the ball over the fence. “I guess I got lucky, and got a hold of one. I hit it pretty well and thought it was gone. The adrenaline got to me a little bit.”
The Dutchmen will face the top seed again in Thursday’s quarterfinals at 4 p.m. when they travel to play Shenendehowa, a team that beat them, 3-2, earlier this season.
Herman had retired 12 of the previous 13 batters before Rathwell’s dinger led off the seventh inning. He finished with six strikeouts and no walks, allowing two earned runs in six-plus innings of work.
Rathwell also drove in the first Guilderland run, smacking an RBI single in the second inning to plate Evan Sanders, who had led off with a double.
The Dutchmen (12-9) led off the first three innings with doubles, the other two coming from Cory Moore and Jacob Sturn. Sturn also had a two-out double in the fifth, but was stranded.
Aside from the three hits allowed in the second inning, Herman was tough to reach before Rathwell’s blast.
“Jack did a great job,” Saratoga Springs coach Dean Bailey said. “He’s shown time and time again that we can have confidence in him to do a job in a difficult situation. He battled the first couple of innings, and eventually wound up settling in and doing a great job.”
The Blue Streaks (13-8) tied the game in the fourth. One-out singles from Jordan Prehoda and Marshall Kiesow, then a walk drawn by Herman, loaded the bases. Guilderland sophomore starter Nick Bruno then hit Ben Place to push Prehoda across.
“The kid competes,” Rathwell said. “He dug deep and got out of it.
“The kid was dealing all game; gave up only one run through six innings of work. He gave us the chance to win it.”
After striking out eight through six innings, Bruno gave way in the home seventh to another sophomore as the Dutchmen’s No. 1 starter Matt Pierce came on in relief. Pierce retired the Blue Streaks in order with a strikeout, a fly to right field and a grounder back to the mound.
“I’m trying to baby them,” Guilderland coach Doug LaValley said. “They’re both only sophomores. Nick, we give him a lot of time in between starts because he’s got a little soreness in the triceps area. But he battled through. He’s a tough little character.”
Saratoga’s Nick Kondo had a pair of singles for the Blue Streaks. They had two runners erased from the basepaths under the watch of Guilderland catcher Ben Favreau, one to end the fifth inning and another for the second out in the sixth.
“We’re forcing teams to play games they’re probably not used to playing, so I like our chances if we get into a game like this with Shen,” LaValley said. “But they’re a tough nut to knock off. They’re the No. 1 team in the state for a reason.”
The Dutchmen last won the sectional title in 2010 as the No. 6 Suburban Council team. They went on to reach the state finals, falling to Lindenhurst.
Last season, Guilderland was the No. 8 seed in the Class AA bracket and knocked off No. 1 Columbia, 9-6.
Coming in with a postseason win already under their belt can’t hurt.
“It feels good going into Shen, looking to knock them off,” Rathwell said. “We took down Columbia last year, so why not this year?”
Guilderland 010 000 1 — 2 7 0
Saratoga Springs 000 100 0 — 1 5 0
Bruno, Pierce (7) and Favreau; Herman, Beer (7) and B. Coffey.