Tri-Valley Advances To ‘C’ Championship Game After Downing Chester In Nail Biter; Mickelson’s Two-Hit Shut Out Plus McInerney’s RBI Single Does The Trick; Bears’ Defense Nearly Flawless; Chester’s Coffey Pitches His Heart Out But Hambos Run Themselves Out Of Innings With Base path Miscues.
Tri-Valley 1, Chester 0
By RICHARD A. ROSS
Photos at: www.sportsinsights.smugmug.com
GRAHAMSVILLE, NY—From the unspeakable sequence when Tri-Valley squandered a 7-0 seventh inning lead against Seward in last year’s Class C title game, the team comprised of a number of soon-to-be seniors resolved to make it all the way back in order to consign that ignominious 8-7 loss to distant memory.
To accomplish that they had to first set aside Division V contenders, the last one being Chester. Indeed the three game series of which the Bears won two, was probably the most contentious and hard-fought of the year. In truth, the two teams are so closely matched that of those three games, two were decided by a single run margin.
So too would be this sectional semifinal featuring the same matchup as Game One of the regular season series that would end up as a 2-1 extra inning win by the Bears. On the hill for that key opener were a pair of aces in T-V’s Joe Mickelson and Chester’s Matt Coffey. The game was knotted at 1-1 after seven innings and was resumed the next day wherein the Bears got the win. Coffey actually returned to the hill for the next day continuation.
Chester won the next game 9-4 but the Bears marshaled a 3-2 victory in the rubber match which gave them their first-ever Division title. Both teams ended up with 12-3 league records but the Bears won the tie-breaker by dint of taking the series.
That set up the sectional semifinal on May 31 in the Bears’ den replete with the same stellar pitching matchup of Mickelson vs. Coffey. The winning team would advance to the championship game and the loser would go home thinking long and hard about just how close they had come to playing for all the marbles.
Both hurlers are incredibly craft and dominant and this game would evince their best efforts yet again. Each struck out two of the three first batters they faced in the opening frame. Mickelson issued a rare walk, only his 15th of the season. He’d walk one more before the day was out and it was a leadoff walk at that issued to Coffey himself.
Unfortunately for Chester that fourth inning opportunity would be squandered as pinch runner Keith Hackett was caught stealing on a bunt attempt wherein there was no bunt.
Mickelson allowed a leadoff double to Gio Alfonso in the top of the second but bore down and struck out the next three batters to erase the threat. He’d fan eight by day’s end.
In the bottom of the frame, Coffey issued a walk to Tyler Lopez who proceeded to steal second and score on a single from Steve McInerney. With aces on the hill, one run would be a mother lode and as it would turn out. Getting just one run to tie the game was not in Chester’s cards.
Mickelson needed just 83 pitches and would allow just one more hit, a seventh inning two out single to Ryan Cabrera before shutting the door by inducing a comebacker from AJ Laura to end the game.
The entire affair took only an hour and 20 minutes. Chester’s other miscue on the base paths came in the fifth inning when Laura had reached when Mickelson and first baseman Fred DuMond failed to call each other off an easy infield pop up. Chester Coach Mike Doucette still second guessing his earlier eschewing of a bunt to move over Alfonso following his lead off double, put the bunt sign on for Jerry Lugo who popped it up. Laura took off from first and was easily doubled off.
In games of this ilk, mistakes such as these can be fatal.
Tri-Valley had its share of imperfection too after McInerney registered his second hit of the day. Pinch runner Justin Swarthout was caught stealing as the Bears were trying to build an insurance run in the fifth.
Both teams had some sterling defensive plays. Rodney Jester showed great range and leather at short for the Bears. Chester’s fielding was sharp as well.
Tri-Valley’s win sends them back to the title game against Seward. Needless to say both teams will readily recall last year’s proceedings.
Doucette affirmed the obvious that Coffey had pitched a great game but “I felt bad for him because we ran ourselves out of a couple of innings,” he noted while giving great credit to Tri-Valley’s play. “We made some mental mistakes today and it cost us,” he added.
“Coffey’s had that curve ball all year. He uses a change up too but that curve breaks at waist and comes right down to the back knee.” Chester ended up at 13-7 overall.
Coming into the dugout Mickelson’s eyes were wide once again. Last time I saw him pitch he threw a perfect game which affords him a place in history. But the magnitude of this game was huge. “Two of three games we played against Chester were extra inning games, nine innings and eight innings and this game was tough. It’s kind of shame that we’re not playing them in title game.”
“Rodney made that great play at short. That was unbelievable but we’re not even close to being done,” he averred looking ahead to the title game.
Tri-Valley Coach John Rusin said, “We really played to our strengths today. We were not flawless by any means. We made some mistakes. The story in this Chester series is that we’ve pitched really well, played really good defense and hit just enough. Today it was Steve McInerney with a huge hit. As for Mickelson, words can’t describe the season this kid is having on the mound. Every game you give him a narrow margin and he’s able to get it done. He’s changing speeds and mixing his pitches well. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Rusin went on to note, “He’s a bulldog out there. He goes after hitters and he rarely gives anyone a free pass. He just keeps you in the ball game.”
Rusin had great praise for Coffey as well. “This is the second time we’ve seen him and he’s been unbelievable. He mixes in that curve and kept us off balance for two straight games. We were fortunate to come away with a win in the first one and he pitched well enough to win today,” he added.
“I was pleased that we were able to scratch out a run, “Rusin noted who took the subject back to Mickelson. “Things like this just don’t happen. He’s worked very hard for this. This is a kid who spent countless hours in the weight room in the offseason. He lives and sleeps baseball. This is not a surprise.
He had a very successful sophomore year with an ERA just over 2.00. His junior campaign was just under 2.0 and this year he as an unspeakable ERA that is under 0.2. He’s been phenomenal. He leads by example. He’s a student of the game. He also gives the defense confidence. He plays great defense and the guys have been able to play really solid defense behind him.
“For some reason we’ve hit a little bit of hitting slump but the day we break out of it we’ll be a far more complete team. We hit well enough in this game to get the win. Saturday’s a new day and hopefully we hit better Saturday.
Rusin talked about the plusses and minuses of senior-laden teams. Sometimes kids have a lot less going on in their lives when they’re juniors and they can devote a bit more time to baseball. As seniors there’s a lot more going on with college etc. But these guys have just dedicated themselves to baseball; focused on baseball. Seward took the game from us last year and that really was a driving force coming into this year.
We’ve done what we needed to do to get back and now we’ll see how Saturday lays out,” said Rusin.
Tri-Valley is the two seed and will be the home team against Seward, an advantage they didn’t have a year ago. Once the Spartans scored that go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh it was all over.
As of this writing the place for the title game on Saturday at 3:00 is yet to be determined.
Coffey noted as he was walking towards the bus that he had never lost a 1-0 game before. That said, he seemed upbeat and proud of the way he pitched. “I left that one change up there and that was the difference,” he said clearly wishing he could have that one back.
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