By JAKE HITT
The Cortland Crush finished up the 2018 New York Collegiate League regular season with a pair of rough losses over the weekend.
Cortland finished the year at 24-18, in second place in the Eastern Division, after ending up on the wrong side of a 5-4 walk-off by the host Syracuse Salt Cats Saturday night and a 24-6 bludgeoning at the hands of the visiting Onondaga Flames in Sunday’s regularseason finale.
Against the Salt Cats, Cortland led a tight 4-2 ballgame going into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Right-hander Shane Epps got the call out of the bullpen to pick up the save and close out the game. Epps, who hadn’t pitched since July 12 against Rome, proceeded to walk two batters and allow a single to load the bases.
That brought on closer Jonathan Triesler. On what was supposed to be his off day, Triesler was faced with the ultimate test of a bases-loaded no-outs jam.
A wild pitch would score Sean Lawlor to close the gap to just one run. Triesler would walk Michael Ray to load the bases again and a single by Matthew Nerz brought home Michael DeFusco to tie the game.
A perfectly-executed suicide squeeze by Chris Coates would be the final nail in the Cortland coffin, complete the Syracuse comeback and send the Crush home on the short end of a walk-off after walking off Rome twice in a Friday doubleheader.
The Crush would head home to Greg’s Field at Beaudry Park Sunday for one final game against the Eastern Division-winning Onondaga Flames.
The circus definitely appeared to be in town, as Flames coach Michael Cordero went with quite the unorthodox lineup. Cordero decided to play multiple pitchers at field positions and allowed seven position players to take the mound to pitch, each getting one inning of work.
The game was close going into the third inning, but Onondaga pulled away after a four-run top of the inning to make it an 8-3 game. The visitors’ lead ballooned to 11-3 after four innings and the onslaught was only beginning. Onondaga would finish with 24 runs with 35 hits in the game.
The Flames scored at least one run in every inning. Two-way player Nick Gracie and pitcher Holder Martin combined to go 12-for-14 with six runs scored and six RBIs.
“They could’ve closed their eyes, swung the bat and got a hit,” Crush pitcher Charlie Hamlet said.
Crush head coach Bill McConnell eventually gave in as well and allowed catcher Justin Valentine to pitch for two and one third innings as one of his eight hurlers on the day.
McConnell said Sunday’s game was uncharacteristic of his team.
“The challenge now is to get our stuff back on track, go to work tomorrow and hopefully win a game,” he said.
Cortland was set to face the Sherrill Silversmiths in the NYCBL’s wild card round at 3 p.m. today on Greg’s Field. The game was rescheduled from 6 p.m. due to potential weather issues. The winner will face the Flames in a bestof- three series for the division championship and a berth in the league finals.
McConnell noted that his players weren’t dwelling on the loss and were ready to make a deep postseason run. “I have no worries about tomorrow other than the thunderstorms,” he said.
The Crush will look to make the postseason run with a more limited roster than before as several players departed between Friday and Sunday. The Crush will be without relief pitchers Brenden Clanton, Shane Epps and Michael Perreault while infielders Iset Maldonado and Julio Creazzola also left.
Perreault, Epps, Clanton and Maldonado parted ways with the Crush for undisclosed reasons while Creazzola left to play in the Valley Baseball League in hopes of earning a Division 1 baseball scholarship.
McConnell said he always recruits positions three or four players deep in anticipation of unexpected departures and that players leaving is not an uncommon occurrence in summer baseball. He also emphasized that the challenges will come in managing the bench and the pitching staff.
“Now it’s managing down to the 11 players who can make a change in a game and win it,” he said.
McConnell also noted that he would not be willing to throw pitchers on short days’ rest and the coaching staff will manage the pitching staff based on rest, pitch count and the situation at hand.
The Crush has now earned a playoff spot in four consecutive seasons, and McConnell took the time to reflect on how his teams of past compare to the current team. He said his 2016 squad was “phenomenal” but sputtered down the stretch due to illness and possible mismanagement of players while describing last year’s team as “overachievers.”
“It all comes down to being teamship,” he said, coining his signature phrase. “Just playing together and having harmony.” McConnell added that his team was gelling and confident going into today’s matchup but that it was important to not take the Silversmiths lightly.
“You only get one shot,” he said. “Tomorrow is one, short second season. Tuesday will be the third season and the finals are number four.”