Jr. Chiefs seize the NYCBL title
GENEVA, N.Y. — Pressure created a crack which eventually widened enough to make the difference.
The relentless Syracuse Jr. Chief offense played to its character and in so doing caused uncharacteristic play from its opponent.
Series MVP Tim Locastro (Ithaca) slapped a one-out bases loaded single to bring home the winning run as the Jr. Chiefs came from behind to defeat the Niagara Power, 9-8 at McDonough Park, Sunday afternoon and clinch the 2012 New York Collegiate Baseball League Championship.
Locastro’s single to left field plated Ryan Sonberg (Bates) with the tying run and Brian Witkowski (Alvernia) with the game-winner as the Jr. Chiefs erased an early five-run deficit for the title.
“That’s kind of been our M.O., ” said Syracuse coach Casey Scott. “Even in some of our losses, we are there in the end. These guys have been resilient all year.”
Locastro’s hit capped a three-run ninth as the Jr. Chiefs regained a lead they held for a short time in the first inning.
“They’re a great group. It’s tough to watch them leave,” Scott continued. “They never gave up. It’s something we have done all year.”
After storms rolled through Niagara County, Saturday night suspending the game and causing a relocation to a neutral site, the Jr. Chiefs generated their own calamity with another weather system pending.
Niagara’s Frank Grandinette (Miami) put on the leadoff man when he hit Corey Caswell (Ithaca) with a pitch. Scott Volyes (Greenville) came on with 3-0 count on Sonberg before walking the Jr. Chiefs first baseman to put the tying run on base. Witkowski reached on an infield single to the right side of the infield when Voyles was incapable of covering the bag. Zach Blanden (Binghamton) made it 8-7 with a sacrifice fly to score Caswell. Frank Salerno (St. Thomas Aquinas) loaded the bases with a flair before Locastro delivered the game-winning hit.
The Power refused to surrender, but the Jr. Chiefs had one last unlikely response.
Adam Taylor (North Greenville) worked a base on balls from Jr. Chief closer, JD Tyler (Northwood) to the lead the bottom of the ninth. With the infield looking for the sacrifice, Neil DeCook (Western Illinois) popped a bunt in the air which appeared to beat Sonberg. As the ball floated over the first baseman’s glove, Syracuse second baseman, Frank Salerno (St. Thomas Aquinas), alertly slipped behind his teammate, snared the pop up and doubled Taylor off first.
“As soon as that ball was over Ryan’s head, I’m thinking disaster,” Scott commented. “I’m thinking first and second.”
Instead the play went in the book as an unassisted double play made by the second baseman at first.
“All of sudden I see Frank come out of nowhere and make that catch. One of the craziest plays I have ever seen based on the situation of the game.”
“I knew it was a bunting situation, so I pinched over to first a little bit,” Salerno explained. “He put it right over our first baseman’s hands into mine. I caught it on the run to base. It was an easy two outs.”
The Power preceded Saturday’s storm with some of their own thunder. Shakeel Newton (Genesee CC) cleared the bases with a double off the wall in left center. Chane Lynch (Dallas Baptist) followed with a triple off the fence in right center, and Niagara took its largest lead at 6-1.
Syracuse loaded the bases and chipped away at the lead in the next inning. Locastro came home on a Riley Moonan (Fairleigh Dickinson) ground ball. But Jordan Schwartz (NiagaraUniversity) got out of the inning without any further damage.
Syracuse loaded the bases again in the fourth before lightning caused Saturday’s initial delay.
Grandinette took over when the game resumed at McDonough Park and faced the heart of the Syracuse order. He retired the league’s leading hitter, Alex Sanchez Jr. (Ave Maria) with a pop out. Friday’s hero, Zach Lauricella (St.John’s), delivered with a single to score Witkowski and and Blanden.
Grandinette got out of the inning without any further damage with a strike out.
Lauricella accounted for seven of the 12 Jr. Chief runs in game one. The Clarence Center, N.Y. native went three-for-three with a home run, two doubles, five RBI and three runs scored.
Syracuse loaded the bases again in the seventh when Neil DeCook (Western Illinois) made a spectacular diving catch in right center. While lying on the ground, DeCook alertly flipped the ball to the oncoming Taylor from right field. Taylor relayed the ball to the infield and limited the rally to one run.
Grandinette ended the threat with one of his four strike outs on the game.
Niagara has used the squeeze bunt throughout the 2012 season, and Sunday was no different. Nicholas Linne (Northwestern) beat Syracuse pitcher John Silvestri (Montclair St.) with a double squeeze. A throwing error on the play allowed Tyler Schweigert (Eastern Illinois) and Taylor to come home for an 8-5 lead after seven.
Ultimately, though, it was not the familiar, but the unfamiliar which was Niagara’s undoing. The peerless defense which took away hits for much of the second half of the season abandoned the Power late.
“I couldn’t be happier with our effort today,” commented Niagara coach Garret Shivley. “We beat ourselves at times with some defensive errors. That was the difference in the ball game. That hasn’t been us.”
Syracuse scored nine runs on 12 hits while Niagara pushed eight across the dish with 10 hits.
“Hats off,” Shivley continued. “It was a heck of a series. They are certainly the champions.”
Lauricella earned Offensive MVP. He finished the series with seven hits in nine trips, seven RBI and four runs scored.
Grandinette who came on and kept the league’s top offense at bay for 4.2 innings took Defensive MVP honors.
Silvestri allowed two runs on four hits over five innings for the win.
Tyler picked up his third save of the post-season.
Salerno had two hits and finished with 11 for the post-season.
“This is the best team I have ever been a part of,” Salerno said. “We all just gelled. It’s such a successful season. I can’t take credit for anything. It’s my teammates. I feed off it. They feed off me. Once we get going, there’s no stopping us.”
The win marked the fourth consecutive for the Eastern Division. The Oneonta Outlaws won the 2011 title with the Amsterdam Mohawks won back-to-back titles in 2009-10.
The title also brings full circle the Syracuse’s participation in the NYCBL. The Syracuse Jr. Chiefs (same name, different organization) took the first two league titles in 1978 and ’79
Game Notes: The unpredictability created by the weather resulted in a last-minute, no, last-second change to the neutral venue, McDonough Park. Geneva brass, John Oughterson, Bill McIntyre and Jim Robbins answered the league’s beck and call. Johnny O. left Sunday mass to find a series of distress signals on his cell phone. Without hesitation he arrived at the “Big Mac” with the keys to the kingdom…or press box. McIntyre happened by when his father saw the Niagara bus in the parking lot and gave his son a call. “Golden Throat” provided narration throughout the game. Robbins checked the league website for last night’s score and found the change. With last night’s festivities in his eyes, Jimmy took care of the scoreboard.