Tri-Valley Wins First Section Nine Title Since 1990 Edging Seward To Avenge Last Year’s Crushing Championship Game Defeat To The Spartans; George Baggata Pitches Masterfully And Then Drives In The Winning Run In The Bottom Of The Seventh
Tri-Valley 2, S.S. Seward 1
By RICHARD A. ROSS
MARLBORO, NY—Adversity has one of two effects on people. It either makes them stronger or it breaks them down. We’ve seen ample evidence of the latter as people who have been beset by tragedy and loss have become depressed, become substance abusers or even turn suicidal. It’s unspeakably sad to see people despair and lose hope.
But for those who can get up off the mat and resolve to approach things with a renewed vigor and purpose, life affords a new opportunity to turn things around.
Welcome to the mantra of the Tri-Valley baseball team which endured one of the most stultifying defeats in last year’s title game to S.S. Seward. Not to belabor the point, but rather to put this year’s remarkable Bears’ win in context, one must reference that defeat. For indeed it would prove to be the preamble to this year’s victorious campaign, one that just evinced a 2-1 win over the Spartans and the Bears’ first Section Nine title since 1990.
Talk about second chances.
Leading 7-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh a year ago, Tri-Valley Coach John Rusin felt that no lead was safe, not even such a large one that late in the game.
With George Baggata having pitched through six innings of shut out baseball, it would have been hard to foresee Seward’s eight-run stanza that handed the 2011 plaque to the Spartans instead of the Bears.
That Tri-Valley team which included a cadre of juniors swallowed the bitter pill of defeat and vowed to return this season with a vengeance.
Rusin and his Bears mapped out a series of goals in the preseason:
1. Beat the “big three” Orange County teams (Seward, Chester and Tuxedo) by taking two of three from them in the regular season series.
2. Garner 14 regular season wins.
Check (Bears got 16). Beat 13-6 mark set by 2006 team, the former high water mark under Rusin’s watch.
3. Win the Bears’ first-ever OCIAA Division V title (titles were won in the days of the old WSL)
4. Win the Section Nine Championship
Having accomplished this ambitious list, Tri-Valley (18-4) now sets its sights on bigger fish as it enters the state tournament to take on Section One’s Haldane (17-3) in Pleasantville on the day of this writing (June 4). Tri-Valley knows a small local school can go all the way. They went to watch Livingston Manor do it last year. The Bears know the difference between dreaming about success and aspiring to achieve it. It takes will, desire, great execution and a sprinkling of good fortune.
The school’s spring athletic awards night has been postponed so that the Bears’ faithful fans who would follow them to the twelfth of never, can travel to watch them play. Besides, how can you have an awards night to celebrate the end of a fine season when the season isn’t over?
Now On To The Game
By all rights this writer should have been there even though this week presents the most daunting challenge of my entire year. With four school presentations on the docket and the countless hours that goes into preparing them, traveling to a baseball game was really going to put me under even greater stress.
But having watched the Bears down Chester 1-0 in the semifinals and listening to the questions about whether I would be there for Saturday’s game, I couldn’t say no. So unaware (my fault entirely) of the postponement I drove to Pine Bush to learn that the game would now be on Sunday at Marlboro. This was out of the question having lost much of Saturday I had to eschew the trip to the title game.
But Coach Rusin called me and gave me a blow-by-blow description of the encounter and photos of the seniors and the team were provided so near as I can approximate things, these are the highlights:
George Baggata took the ball for the number two-seeded Bears. Undaunted by back surgeries that would have sidelined most players, he was on a mission to stymie the team that knocked him out of the game last year after surrendering five of the eventual eight runs in the seventh.
For their part, the number-four seeded Spartans under Coach Bill Steele were hoping they could get to Baggata, something they couldn’t do in the regular season. In the top of the first Jake Kinley roped a lead off single over third base. Adam Vasquez attempted to bunt him over but the ball popped up and catcher Steve McInerney hauled it in.
But the Bears weren’t out of the woods yet. Anthony Rico’s single plated Kinley and the Spartans were on the board with a 1-0 lead. Baggatta bore down and struck out the next two batters to limit the damage.
T-V failed to score in the first though Greg Swarthout walked and stole second but was picked off. Then in the top of the second the Spartans threatened to widen the gap.
And E-2 and an E-6 put two Spartans on the base paths with no out. Once again King George wielded his mighty scepter striking out two and inducing a 4-3 put out to ordain an end to Seward’s intended upheaval.
In the bottom of the third T-V’s Cody Exner singled with two out but was caught attempting to steal.
As the game wound on, Baggatta got even stronger. Evincing a powerful fastball and his fine location on the inside of the plate, Baggata mixed in what Rusin describes as his slurve (slow curve) and a curious drop pitch. His mound mastery was keeping the Bears right in the game.
In the bottom of the fourth Rodney Jester led off with a double. Greg Swarthout moved him over to third with a well-placed bunt. Joe Mickelson’s ground out plated Jester and the Bears knotted the game at 1-1.
Baggata set Seward down 1-2-3 in the fifth and sixth innings. In the top of the seventh Seward got a pinch hit single to center field. As if the tension wasn’t already high enough, an eight minute hiatus in the game came about as umpires and coaches consulted the rule book regarding a called strike on a Seward pinch hitter who had stepped out of the box though no pitch had been delivered.
Seeking to avoid any notion of game protest, they resolved to sort it out right then and there and eventually it was ruled a no-pitch. The base runner stole second putting the go-ahead run in scoring position but Baggata struck out the next batter and Kinley lined out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, this writer’s candidate for NYS Class C Player of the Year, Joe Mickelson that is, led off with a double to right center. He advanced to third on a wild pitch by Seward ace Anthony Bailey who up to this point had matched Baggata’s verve inning by inning. Bailey would throw just 89 pitches by day’s end.
Seward moved its outfielder’s in to try and cut off the winning run on a sac fly, shades of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series when the Yankees tried the same maneuver to try and ward off a win by the Arizona Diamondbacks. It didn’t work then and it didn’t work now.
Baggata blasted the ball over the right fielder’s head for the walk off single as the jubilant Bears released the pent-up fervor stored for the past year.
Baggata’s line was impressive to say the least: 7 innings pitched 1 run, four hits (all singles), seven strikeouts, no walks, two wild pitches, 1 earned run.
While Rusin felt that last year’s large lead was never safe, and rightfully so, this year he felt his team exuded an air of confidence down 1-0; something wrought of playing in a lot of close games this year including the recent nail-biters versus Chester.
Mickelson will take the hill for the game versus Haldane on four solid nights of rest since his 82-pitch shutout gem versus Chester.
“We need to hit a little more, issue no walks and make no errors, while limiting base runners,” said Rusin thinking ahead. Asked if his team was complacent now having won the long-eluded Section Nine title, he said no emphatically.
“These kids are confident. They want to win,” he averred. It’s hard to argue with that maxim. More to come.