Coaches’ words, glossed over and taken to heart, told the story of this one.
“I think that’s exactly what they did,” coach Ben Albright said when asked if his four-seeded Cortland High squad had overlooked visiting No. 13 Mexico, which had just pulled off an 8-1 Section 3 Class A tournament upset on Greg’s Field.
“I told them three or four times that we had to earn it, go out and make it happen. Unfortunately we didn’t do that, and they came out ready to play,” he added.
“The guys were loose, and knew they were the underdog,” Tigers coach Joe Meyer said, his team now 7-10. “I told them that I compared them to the Syracuse basketball team, which made the Final Four after people argued that they didn’t belong in the NCAA Tournament. We had to beat Oswego Saturday to qualify and we did, 7-5. Now we’re in this to do some damage.”
Mission accomplished on Tuesday, as Mexico ended Cortland’s season, derailing a team that went 11-3 after starting out the season at 0-6, finishing 11-9. CHS’s first win, in fact, came at the expense of the Tigers, 11-1, back on March 25.
Senior left-hander Tyler Stever and his catcher, sophomore Reed Fravor, helped make sure that things went differently the second time around. Stever threw a three-hitter, not allowing a hit until Purple Tigers senior shortstop Alex Babcock doubled to left with two outs in the fifth.
Stever didn’t allow the hosts’ lone run until his team was up 7-0. He also helped himself at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a double, a walk, and a hit by pitch, driving in a run and scoring twice.
Fravor, meanwhile, went 2-for-3 out of the ninth spot in the order and had three RBIs.
“When you go against good teams, you have to pitch well,” said Stever, who was the losing pitcher the first time the two teams met. “Their pitcher threw a good game. My fastball outside was my best pitch today, without a doubt. I pitched pretty poorly the first time but since then have found myself — it started out when I got a complete-game 10-inning win over Homer, 2-1, at home on May 3 — and we’ve figured it out as a team. Everyone’s playing for everyone.
“I started out the season hitting poorly, like 0-for-20, before I brought out the Rally Chicken (a rubber chicken that stands guard over the Mexico dugout). Then the hits started coming for everyone.”
“My mentality is getting the win, which makes me hit, and when that happens it brings up my teammates’ spirits,” Fravor said. “We hit the ball much harder than we did the first time we played Cortland, and fielded it better, too. It all came together. We knew it was do or die for the seniors, their last shot, so we came out strong and played well.”
“Tyler pitched a good game the first time against Cortland, but the score doesn’t show it,” Meyer said. “Our defense let him down a little. He pitched well again today after a bit of a slow start, and the defense made plays. When we do that, we’re in the game. We knew we had to come out strong, that Jake Woods (the Purple Tigers’ pitcher) is gong to play in college.”
The Tigers will visit 12th-seeded Syracuse CBA in the quarterfinals on Thursday after the Brothers improved to 9-11 with 4-2 nine-inning win over No. 5 Homer in Tuesday’s second game on Greg’s Field.
The visitors got all of the runs they’d need by scoring once in each of the first two innings off the SUNY Cortland-bound Woods. Senior shortstop Jake Gorton led off the game by drawing a walk, stole second and, after another walk an a strikeout by Woods, stole third, the throw by junior catcher James Lane sailing high into left field as Gorton scampered home. Stever led off the second with a single and, after being sacrifice to second, scored on a bad-hop single up the middle by Fravor on a two-strike pitch.
Cortland, meanwhile, loaded the bases in each of the first two inning but came up empty both times, Two walks sandwiched around an error put three runners on in the first before Stever ended the threat with a strikeout, He then walked the bases loaded with one out in the second but got an infield popout and a fly ball to the outfield to again escape unscathed.
“Stever pitched well,” Albright said. “Loading the bases in the first two innings we thought we’d get to him early, but he got out of both, which was huge. He showed toughness, stuck it out and had a very good game.
“They put the ball in play and we weren’t able to get outs when we needed them. They got some seeing-eye singles up the middle, big, timely hits that spelled disaster for us. Jake was dominant in a couple, and in some others put a couple of two-strike pitches too much over the plate and they got the barrel on them.”
Mexico upped its lead to 5-0 with three runs in the fourth. Junior rightfielder Dakota Deasy and Stever (on a bunt attempt) were both hit by pitches to lead things off, junior Jake Hellinger pinch-running for Stever, before senior centerfielder Tanner Stevens singled up the middle with two strikes on him, the ball misplayed in the outfield as Deasy scored and the runners ended up on second and third. Fravor then lashed a two-run single just inside the first-base bag and down the line into right on another two-strike pitch.
Babcock lashed a two-out double for Cortland’s first hit of the game in the bottom of the fifth but was stranded by a groundout.
Junior second baseman Brian Dufrane’s two-run single up the middle made it 7-0 for Mexico in the top of the sixth before the Purple Tigers scored their only run in the bottom of the inning. Senior rightfielder Curtis Wilk led off with a single up the middle and went to third as freshman leftfielder Noah Barber singled to left-center. One out later, freshman second baseman Jake Prunier crashed into Stever after hitting a foul popup that fell safely, both players able to stay in the game. Prunier then hit into a fielder’s choice that extinguished Barber at second but allowed Wilk to score. After a wild pitch and a walk, Stever was able to get an inning-ending flyout.
“I got the wind knocked out of me,” Stever said of his collision with Prunier. “The first thing I asked when I could talk was if the batter was out. That was the important thing.”
Deasy singled to left with two outs in the seventh and scored to make it 8-1 on a double into the leftfield corner by Stever, who retired Cortland in order in the bottom of the seventh to finish the game.
We know we can beat anyone, any day,” Stever said. “We’re back in sectionals after a couple of years of not making it, and we’re going for the title.”
Woods gave up 10 hits and six earned runs with 14 strikeouts in going the distance for Cortland. He finished the season with a 3-3 record, a 1.64 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 47 innings.
“What’s lost in this whole shuffle is that we started out 0-6, came back to win the league and battled every game,” Albright said. “I’m proud of this group. It ended a little earlier that we thought it would, but the season ends in a loss for all but one team in sectionals.”