May 28, 2015
Dragons crowned national champs
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. — Just before his SUNY Cortland baseball team staged a gritty five-run rally in the top of the ninth inning to become the national champions on Wednesday afternoon, head coach Joe Brown felt a warm glow.
Just before the Red Dragons pulled out a 6-2 victory over Wisconsin-La Crosse to sweep up this NCAA Division III World Series best-of-three championship series in two straight games, a simple song eased some of the tension from that crucial moment.
Over the loudspeakers at Fox Cities Stadium was heard the John Fogerty song “Centerfield” — the same tune recently deceased and longtime Cortland diamond coach Bob “Sparky” Wallace always played during his beloved baseball reunions held over the past 39 years.
“I was sitting there at third smiling. I don’t know how coincidental that was, but it played before our rally,” noted Brown of that promising omen, the iconic Wallace having passed away this past December and remembered recently in a memorial service the current Cortland coach conducted.
Trailing 2-1 and a mere three outs away from having to play a winner-takes-all third game in the series, the team wearing the initials ‘BW’ on their caps in memory of the old ball coach responded to the situation in championship fashion.
After loading the bases with no outs, designated hitter Nick Hart delivered the clutch two-run single to put the Red Dragons ahead and three more runs soon crossed the plate to erase Wisconsin-La Crosse’s lead. And when two senior middle infielders — second baseman Mark DeMilio and shortstop Anthony Simon — turned a game-ending double play to close the show in the bottom of the ninth, it was time to celebrate.
The Red Dragons’ 13th appearance in the World Series proved to be the lucky one, delivering the program’s first national baseball title and capping a stellar 45-4 season — the most wins ever posted by a Cortland club. The Red Dragons’ previous best World Series finishes were runner-up showings in 2005 and 2010.
“I give a tremendous amount of credit to these young men,” said Brown, whose team went an unbeaten 9-0 in the NCAA post-season starting with three consecutive comeback victories in the New York State Regionals played at Auburn’s Falcon Park. “The level of mental toughness that was displayed was like none other.”
Centerfielder Conrad Ziemendorf was named the World Series Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the official all-tournament team by pitchers Seth Lamando and Brandon Serio, outfielder Fabio Ricci and third baseman Matt Michalski.
GOING UP AGAINST a Wisconsin-La Crosse (36-16) squad making its first-ever World Series appearance, Cortland had won the opening game of the championship series 11-3 on Tuesday evening but trailed 2-1 through eight innings in Game Two.
The Red Dragons’ winning rally started with a Michalski single up the middle. Freshman catcher Justin Teague reached when his sac bunt was bobbled by the Eagles third baseman and leadoff batter DeMilio walked to load the bases.
That’s when Hart delivered, lining a single up the middle to drive in two runs and give Cortland a 3-2 lead. After Vinny Bomasuto bunted runners to second and third, Eagles reliever Jameson Sadowske struck out the next batter for the second out. Ziemendorf then reached on an error to score a run and Ricci’s bloop into center field became a two-run single when two Wisconsin-La Crosse outfielders collided trying to make a sliding catch.
Cortland’s Travis Laitar entered in relief in the bottom of the ninth. He walked the first batter, but struck out the next and induced a championship-ending double play grounder to ignite a player pile-up near the mound.
Cortland finished 5-0 at the World Series, with three Pool A wins before sweeping past the Pool B champion Eagles.
Lamando, the winning pitcher when the Red Dragons opened the World Series beating Webster 12-4 last Friday, started the title game and earned a no decision after throwing seven innings. He allowed eight hits and two runs, walked two and struck out nine.
In his two World Series starts, Lamando collected 20 strikeouts. He also came up with the game’s biggest defensive play after Travis Buxton-Verstegen hit a one-out triple in the bottom of the fifth — flipping the ball to catcher Teague on a safety squeeze bunt to get Buxton-Verstegen out at the plate.
Reliever Adam Brant entered in the eighth with a runner on and induced a ground-out and a line-out double play to keep the score 2-1. He was the pitcher of record when Cortland took the lead and finished the season 4-1 with the win.
THE EAGLES OPENED with Joe Miller on the mound, pitching on three days rest. He allowed just six hits and alone run in his five and a third productive innings.
Cortland took the lead in the top of the sixth on a Ziemendorf RBI single, but La Crosse scored twice in the bottom of the inning to take a 2-1 lead as Bryce Barsness and Shane Adler each singling home runs.
Those were the final runs scored against Cortland pitchers Lamando, Bryant the Laitar, the Red Dragons with an 11-8 hit advantage.
Hart and Ricci each finished 2-for-5 with those big ninth inning hits, and Michalski was 2-for-4. Those three players were all reserves early in the season who were called upon to contribute for various reasons, and delivered.
“Each guy had their shining moments, and as a coach you want to see kids have those moments and it couldn’t be more gratifying,” said Coach Brown of this remarkable post-season run where so many contributed to Cortland success.
“All phases of the baseball game for us were challenged,” he added. “Our pitching in situations was challenged. We had to go to the bullpen and those guys did a great job. Our defense in regionals was challenged a little bit, and we came to the World Series and played excellent defense. And our offense was challenged with the pitchers we faced. We had to have the explosion, an inning of 11 runs (in a win over Frostburg State) and then today where we didn’t score anything until the ninth. Everything was exposed and every time we responded in all three areas, which is good to have.”
Brown was involved with the last New York State team to win a national basetball title, serving as a sophomore infielder for that 1988 Ithaca College championship club.
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