By JAKE HITT
SYRACUSE – The Cortland Crush find themselves facing a New York Collegiate Baseball League playoff deficit after a tough win and loss on Tuesday.
Cortland is down 1-0 to the Onondaga Flames in the Eastern Division Championship Series after a 2-1 loss at Onondaga CC Tuesday night that came right down the wire. The Crush advanced to the series earlier in the day after a 5-4 victory over the Sherrill Silversmiths in the wildcard round at OCC. The game was moved to Tuesday due to rain Monday afternoon.
It was the Crush’s first playoff win since the 2015 postseason.
Cortland came back from two runs down twice to tie the first game before eventually taking the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After the Crush fell behind 2-0 in the top of the third, outfielder Nelson Laviosa came up in the bottom of the inning and laced a double that would score fellow outfielders Joe Palmo and Dylan Ketch.
Laviosa finished with the best stat line of any batter as he went 2-for-4 with two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored.
With the game deadlocked at 4-4 after Sherrill took the lead again and Cortland fought back to tie it, catcher Garrett Hunter would walk with the bases loaded to bring home the go-ahead and game-winning run in Alex Flock.
Jonathan Triesler would come in to shut the door and picked up the save thanks to two outstanding plays in the field by shortstop Anthony Cieszko.
Starter Jordan Christian would earn the win after a quality start from him. He would finish the day with allowing four runs (three earned) over seven innings with five strikeouts.
Christian credited the effectiveness of his changeup with how he was able to keep hitters off balance.
Later that night, the Flames and Crush would meet for Game 1 of the Eastern Division championship series.
It was everything to be expected in a playoff baseball game, a tight, gritty performance fueled by a pitchers’ duel.
Cortland threw out right-hander Alex Larson while the Flames countered with Mike Netzel.
With the game scoreless in the fifth inning, the Crush found a way past Netzel to gain a 1-0 lead thanks to an RBI single by second baseman Jimmy Tatum. Cortland was being no-hit through the first four innings of the game
Onondaga responded with a run of its own in the bottom of the sixth and eventually took the lead on sacrifice fly by Jack Chernow after a series of bloop hits and miscues by Cortland.
Drama would ensue for the final two innings of play.
In the top of the eighth, Cortland found itself with runners on the corners with one out and their most consistent hitter coming to the plate.
After a duel against Flames reliever Nick Garcia, Ketch would strike out for the second out and Hayden Houts would fly out for the third.
The top four batters in the Cortland order would finish the game a combined 1-15 with five strikeouts, the lone hit a single by Joe Palmo in the seventh.
Tensions would rise in the bottom of the eighth.
The Flames found themselves in position to add more to the lead with two on and two out with Chernow at the plate again. A questionable strike call by the home plate umpire lit a fire under Flames head coach Michael Cordero, who could be heard complaining and laying into the umpire from the third base coach’s box.
Chernow would strike out swinging to the end the inning and Cordero ran up to finish what he started. After a series of shouts and demonstrative motions by Cordero, he was eventually ejected from the ballgame.
This fired up Cordero even more as he tried to let the umpire have it one more time before exiting. He even went as far as to push the field umpire out of the way in an attempt get back in the home plate umpire’s face. Cordero would eventually be restrained by Onondaga players and coaches.
NYCBL Commissioner Joe Brown said Cordero’s status for future games is yet to be determined.
Finally, in the top of the ninth, the drama would reach its climax.
Down by one run, Cortland found itself staring down the arm of the Flames’ closer and regular-season saves leader, Keon Taylor.
A walk by Zach Kelley and two straight errors to put Alex Flock and Tyler McKeon on base gave the Crush the perfect opportunity to tie the game and take the lead.
Taylor would come back to strikeout Tatum, who was clutch for the Crush twice that day. Nick Palma would sub in for Justin Valentino. With all eyes on him and the game on the line, Palma laced a ball to shortstop. McClain O’Connor would make an outstanding grab and a prompt throw over to second to double up Flock would end the game in a flash for Cortland.
“Baseball’s a funny sport isn’t it?” Crush reliever Ben Mack said. “That’s just the way it happens sometimes.”
“Still one, even two games left,” pitching coach Tyler Mattoon said.
Game two is slated for 6 p.m. today on Greg’s Field, but inclement Wednesday weather threatens that plan. If the game postponed, the Crush and Flames would play a doubleheader at OCC Thursday to determine the division champion.