The wait is over for the Shenendehowa Plainsmen.
The state’s top-rated Class AA high school baseball team will get a chance to earn that title on the field next weekend after beating Auburn, 3-1, Saturday night in a Class AA regional championship game at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Left-hander Bryan Warzek gave up just three hits, and Ian Anderson got the final out as the Plainsmen improved to
23-1. Warzek shut out Niskayuna in the Section II semifinals, and picked up the win in relief in last weekend’s 10-4 victory over CBA that gave coach Greg Christodulu’s team its second straight sectional championship.
Connor Douglas drove in a run and scored one, and Brennan McCormack also knocked in a run as the Plainsmen ended the Cinderella postseason run of Auburn, which came from the No.7 seed to win the Section III title.
Shenendehowa will meet Roy C. Ketcham High (Section I) in a state semifinal this Saturday at 1 at Maine-Endwell High School in the Binghamton area. Ketchum beat Valley Central (Section IX), 5-1, in another state quarterfinal on Saturday.
The trip to the state final four will be the first for Shenendehowa since 1996. Shenendehowa lost to Baldwinsville in the regional final last season.
Warzek would have preferred to finish the game, but deferred to Christodulu, who felt Anderson’s fastball was the team’s best option.
“Definitely,” said Warzek, when asked if he was a little disappointed that he wasn’t on the mound for the final out. “But, I’ve said this time and time again. Our pitchers have complete faith in each other. I knew Ian would come in and do his job. He always does.”
Warzek had breezed into the seventh. He retired the first two hitters, but hit the next. Second baseman Josh Hayner couldn’t come up with Trent Valetntino’s ground ball up the middle, putting two on.
“Bryan gutted it out,” said Christodulu. “I thought he pitched well. Our defense let him down a little. It wasn’t as sharp as it couldn’t have been, which put him in some tough spots.
“When you have a resource like Ian Anderson, being able to bring him out of the bullpen and hit the [radar] gun at 84, 86, we’d kick ourselves if we didn’t utilize him in that situation.”
Leadoff hitter Patrick LaDouce kept Auburn’s season alive when he singled off Anderson, loading the bases. Anderson then got John Rizzo to hit a sinking liner to right, but Matt Blosie made a sliding catch to end the game.
“I hoped I would pitch, but you never know,” said Anderson, one of two sons of Schalmont coach Bob Anderson on the Shen roster. The Sabres clinched a spot in the state Class B semis earlier in the day. “We’ve got Bryan, but if he [Christodulu] calls, you’ve got to be ready.”
Christodulu had few words for the reliever.
“He told me just to pitch my game, throw strikes,” said the sophomore.
That strategy didn’t change when LaDouce got his hit to load the bases.
“Just try to get him to pop it up,” Anderson said.
Warzek was in the mob that gathered near the mound after the final out after Blosie put away the 21st out.
“It’s pretty nerve wracking, but, like I said, Ian does his job out there,” Warzek said. “Every day he comes to practice and gets his work in. It showed right there.”
“I wasn’t sure, but he [Blosie] said he had it all the way,” Anderson said of the final out.
Warzek worked out of his first bit of trouble in the Auburn second. His two-out throwing error allowed Eric Gatewood to reach second base, but Warzek left him there when he struck out Erik Baim to end the inning.
His teammates rewarded him by quickly loading the bases in the bottom of the inning on singles by John Novenche and Blosie around Douglas getting hit by a Justin Valentino pitch.
With one out, Kyle McAlonie hit a potential inning-ending double play grounder to Auburn shortstop Matt Brooks, who let the ball go through his legs as Novenche scored. With the bases still loaded, McCormack hit into a run-scoring force out.
Douglas made it 3-0 with a long double to left-center in the third, scoring Novenche.
"Fast ball, first pitch," Douglas said of his approach to the at bat that resulted in Shenendehowa's final base hit of the game. "It felt great."
Douglas thinks the postseason schedule, which has teams playing once a week at this stage, worked in Shenendehowa's favor.
"They were hot, and I think it took away their momentum," he said. "That helped us a bunch. It gives a team with one or two really good pitchers an advantage. All you have to do is get a few runs."
"Connor got a huge double for us where he jumped on a fastball and drove it well and scored Novenche all the way from first," Christodulu said. "Those are the settings we prepare for, and he took ful advantage of the situation. He's been giving us a lot of quality at bats."
Auburn got that run back in the fourth on two singles, a Warzek balk and a Stephen Bennett sacrifice fly. Warzek got a ground out and strikeout to end the inning.
He got eight of the next 10 batters before leaving in favor of Anderson.
Auburn 000 100 0 — 1 4 1
Shenendehowa 021 000 x — 3 5 4
J. Valentino and LaDouce; Warzek, I. Anderson (7) and Pearson.