First baseman Brandon LaRue was taking ground balls and handling throws from his teammates as Schalmont prepped Monday afternoon for its upcoming state final-four appearance in Binghamton.
“It feels like we’re reliving the moment,” LaRue, a sturdy 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior, said after the round of defensive drills at Bruce Bouck Memorial Field. “To do it again brings back great memories.”
LaRue and a handful of his high school mates were part of something great back in the summer of 2009 when, as members of the Rotterdam Little League, they helped its 9-10-year-old all-star team capture the New York State championship in Rochester.
“That was a long time ago,” senior pitcher and outfield Chris Hamilton said. “I remember Brandon’s dad [Tony] was the coach. We had a great team. We had the same goals as we do now.”
As Little Leaguers, Hamilton, LaRue, Jake Defayette, Kyle Hirsh and Brian Mahar reached their goal when Rotterdam put together a six-run sixth inning and overhauled Geddes 13-9 in their final game that summer.
“When it first happens, you think this might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” LaRue, who pitched five shutout innings in Saturday’s 9-0 regional win against Ogdensburg Free Academy, said. “We get to do it again.”
LaRue’s mound work and his two-run single were part of an impressive performance that propelled Schalmont back to the state Class B final four, which will take place Saturday at Maine-Endwell High School, which is just west of Binghamton. Schalmont (19-7) meets Fredonia (17-8) at 1, after the first semifinal between Marlboro (20-2) and Solvay (22-2) at 10 a.m. The championship game will start at 4.
“We bond really well together, just like the 9-and-10-year-old team did,” said Defayette, a junior second baseman, outfielder and pitcher. “We have a chemistry. We’re all thinking the same thing. ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
Defayette and Hamilton are in a unique position among the group, with a chance to win a third state championship. Both of them, along with current senior Alex Schlag, were on Schalmont’s 2014 varsity team that beat Clinton and then Rye Neck for the Class B New York crown.
“Not very many people get to play for one. The opportunity to get three is amazing,” Defayette said. “We kept building on what we had, got better, and here we are.”
Schalmont (19-7) has won seven postseason games, while the Rotterdam Little League team doubled that with six district, four sectional and four state tournament victories. Rotterdam did not lose a playoff game.
“It has to help us,” Schalmont coach Chris Teta said of the state-level experience his team has. “They know how to handle the pressure. They know how to handle the spotlight. It helps us mentally and physically having veterans who have been through it at different levels. That rubs off on the other guys.”
Teta said all of his players have done their part during Schalmont’s late-season run. The Sabres secured their third Section II title in four years by beating Saratoga Catholic and then knocked off Hoosic Valley in the Class B-BB playoff. Regional wins against Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg followed.
“Everyone has done it, top to bottom,” Teta said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean a big hit. It can be a bunt to move a guy over. A hit and run. A stolen base. Even a defensive play. It has been an all-team effort. Each one of them in the lineup has somehow contributed over the last few weeks.”
Schalmont’s win streak reached 10 games with the victory over Ogdensburg. The Sabres took control early with a six-run first-inning outburst, and Schlag followed LaRue on the mound to complete the Sabres’ fourth postseaon shutout.
“About a month ago, I noticed we were hitting the ball hard,” Schalmont athletic director John Gallo said. “The offense wasn’t there most of the year. What a good time to get hot. Before, we were winning 3-1 or losing 3-1.”
Teta said diligence in the batting cage has paid off.
“The pitching and defense has been there from the start. Hitting is what we needed to come through,” he said. “We worked at it all year. We kept at it. The last couple of games, it’s bloomed.”
Schalmont outscored its seven postseason opponents 54-9 on the way to the state final four. The Sabres closest games were a 7-5 Section II semifinal win over Schuylerville and a 5-2 sub-regional win over Plattsburgh when Matt Rash delivered a clutch tie-breaking two-run double.
“In the beginning of the season, we were trying to find out what we were,” Defayette said. “The last few weeks we found it.”
Schalmont could find itself playing an Onondaga County team for a state title, like the Rotterdam group did back in 2009. Solvay, like Geddes, is a suburb of Syracuse.
“We won as 9-and-10-year-olds. We won in 2014. We need two more games,” Hamilton said. “Definitely a state championship is what we’re after. That would be a great feeling for all of us.”