The Cortland Crush are New York Collegiate Baseball League Eastern Division champions.
Four Crush pitchers combined for a three-hit shutout as Cortland took game one of a Friday’s doubleheader 5-0 over the visiting Syracuse Salts Cats, which locked up a share of the division title and guaranteed the Crush the number one seed in the Eastern Division playoffs that start next week.
The Salt Cats came back in game two, as Joe Anselmi drove in five runs during a 7-4 victory to earn a split.
Cortland (29-16) became outright division champions after leaving Greg’s Field as Sherrill handed the second-place Syracuse Junior Chiefs (26-18) a 6-5 defeat at Onondaga Community College.
The Junior Chiefs and third-place Salt Cats (22-22) will play each other twice over the weekend before squaring off in a one-game playoff to determine the Crush’s opponent in the Eastern Division Championship Series which begins Wednesday at Greg’s Field. The championship series will be a best two-of-three series. Game two will be Thursday at Onondaga Community College with a game three, if needed, Friday night at Greg’s Field.
“We are happy to be the number one seed and want to win it all tomorrow,” Crush manager Bill McConnell said prior to the Junior Chiefs loss. “We have a lot of legacy things going on including the most ever wins now at 29 games. We got the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament in just our third year so we have been very fortunate. We are happy, but we still have some work to do. It will be nice to have a little time off to rest and rejuvenate before Wednesday’s game.”
It’s been a balance of good pitching and a much-improved offense that has Cortland on top in the Eastern Division this season.
“The kids have bought in from the first week that it is a team effort,” McConnell said. “Everybody pulled their weight. They know their roles and which is something I learned back in college. We are very happy with all the Crush players before and this year. They have all been great teammates.”
Cortland 5, Salts Cats 0: Pitchers Blake Demeter, Matt McCuen, Cody Shelton and Derek Martin combined for the three-hitter in the opening seven-inning game. The Crush took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on an RBI single by Paul Ludden to earn his third win of the season.
McCuen was the pitcher of record at that time so he picked up the win to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Martin is Cortland’s right fielder, but he missed his chance at a save when he belted a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Crush a 4-0 cushion. George Haaland added an RBI single to score Greg Mula for the fourth run of that sixth inning game-securing outburst.
Vince Amato (1-2) pitched well for Syracuse as he went the distance and kept the Salt Cats in the game at 1-0 through five innings. He surrendered just four hits until that sixth inning.
Salt Cats 7, Cortland 4: Game two saw Cortland enjoy a 1-0 lead after one inning and 2-1 advantage after two. Martin scored Brody Santilli on a sacrifice fly for the 1-0 lead. Jack McCarty tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the second inning while the Crush were turning a double play and Santilli stroked an RBI single in the bottom of the second to plate Ethan Moore as Cortland enjoyed its final lead of the night at 2-1.
All the momentum changed in the top of the third inning. A single by Chris McGee and two walks loaded the bases with one out. Anselmi ripped a double to the fence in right-centerfield to score all three runners and give Syracuse a 4-2 lead.
The Salt Cats threaten to add to their advantage in the top of the sixth inning as a light rain began to fall, but Cortland turned its second double play of the game to escape any further damage.
The Crush used that defensive momentum and a couple of errors to score twice in the bottom of the sixth inning and tied the score at 4-4. Martin led off with a single and a misplayed ball in the outfield allowed him to reach third base. Mula singled him home and Cortland trailed 4-3.
T.J. Wegmann dropped down a perfect sacrifice bunt, but the ball was thrown over first base and into the Salt Cats’ bullpen. Mula scored to tie the game and Wegmann moved to third base. Ethan Moore walked to force Syracuse starting pitcher Joe Cominsky from the mound.
Sean Pisik came to the hill and shut down the Crush as the right-handed sidearmer struck out the next three batters to end the threat.
McGee led off the top of the seventh with a single and stole second base. He scored on a two-out single by Shannon Baker. Anselmi strode to the plate and drove the ball 375 feet over the fence in left-centerfield for a 7-4 Salt Cats advantage.
Pisik hit Ludden to start the bottom of the seventh, but he was forced out at second on a fielder’s choice, A caught stealing and fly out ended the game as the Salt Cats got the win and a split for the two games.
Cortland left Greg’s Field happy that they had clinched a share of the Eastern Division title and the number one seed. With the potential tiebreakers in play. Cortland and Syracuse Junior Chiefs split their 10 meetings 5-5 this season so the second tiebreaker was in effect.
The Crush finished 8-2 against the third-place Salt Cats. In turn the Salt Cats hold a 5-3 edge over the Junior Chiefs so the best the Junior Chiefs could hope for is a 5-5 mark against their city rival so that tiebreaker goes to the Crush for the top seed. Of course, none of that does matter at this point as Sherrill ended the title hopes of the Junior Chiefs last night.
— In the NYCBL Western Division, Wellsville (22-22) took a leg up in the battle for second place with a 16-6 victory over Hornell (21-23). Rochester topped Genesee 6-5 in the battle between the two teams not heading to the playoffs.