It was a couple of players from Tompkins Cortland Community College, who were high school rivals locally, who played a big part in the Cortland Crush winning its home opener and first game of the New York Collegiate Baseball League season Sunday at Greg’s Field.
Last Friday’s scheduled home opener was rained out and the Crush dropped the season opener at the Rome Generals Saturday by a 7-3 count, but a suicide squeeze bunt by Homer graduate Storm Grant plated the winning run and an RBI double by Jimmy Tatum gave Cortland some breathing room in a 7-5 come-from-behind victory over the Onondaga Flames. Grant made a catch in left field for the final out in the top of the ninth inning as well. Cortland is now 1-1 on the season. Onondaga falls to 0-2.
“I got the job done,” Grant said. “It was awesome. I haven’t bunted since high school. It was a good feeling because it was the go ahead run. It’s awesome getting the RBI and catching the final out. I like the Crush. These are some great guys, it’s a great team and I can’t wait to win some more games.”
While it was Grant at the end of the game, it was Cortland High alum Alex Babcock who helped the Crush get their first two runs.
Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning. Babcock got the first Cortland home field hit with a line drive double off the left field fence. Babcock got the first stolen base at Greg’s Field when he stole third base. A sacrifice bunt by John Volpe plated Babcock with the Crush run. Tatum added a single to score Hayden Houts as Cortland tied the game at 2-2.
“That was good,” Babcock said of his string of firsts for the Crush. “I was definitely happy the kid threw me a fastball inside. It felt so good off the bat.”
As for his first game back at Greg’s Field since his days as a Purple Tiger, “It feels great. It’s not my favorite field, but it brings back great memories being here.”
“We are fortunate to have two or three guys in the area that are ready to play at this level right now and are interested in playing at this level,” Crush manager Bill McConnell said. “Funny story about Storm is I asked him when the last time he bunted and he said in high school. I said good, go get it down and he did. Alex Babcock had a great hit. I thought it was going out, but it hit off the fence. He is also doing a good job at third base.”
After a bases-loaded walk and hitting another batter in the top of the second inning, Cortland starting pitcher Jake Rajsigl got two quick outs to start the third inning, but walked the next three batters to load the bases again. McConnell brought in Alex Larson and Onondaga second baseman Reid Gibbs greeted Larson by driving the first pitch he saw into deep centerfield. Gibbs’ triple cleared the bases and gave the Flames a 5-2 lead.
The Crush got close immediately in the bottom of the third inning. Iset Maldonado drew a lead off walk. With one out, Zach Kelley hit a drive over the right field fence. Kelley’s opposite field blast pulled the Crush to within 5-4. Babcock was hit by a pitch with two outs and Houts singled to drive Flames’ starter Riley Glenn from the game. LeMoyne College and former Jamesville-DeWitt hurler Casey Kretch came on to record a strikeout to end the Cortland threat. Kretch and Jimmy Flahive kept Cortland quiet until the bottom of the seventh inning.
Justin Pacheco did the same for Cortland as the Marist College bound freshman allowed only one hit and struck out three batters in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. “Justin is a recent high school graduate from a prep school in Connecticut,” Mc- Connell said. “Even though he is a college age freshman and he will be going to Marist College. He was 7-0 at the prep school and won the championship. He’s a college ready kid.”
Michael Perreault tossed an interesting eighth inning for Cortland. It began with two strikeouts before three walks loaded the bases. Perreault got his third strikeout to end the threat without a run scoring.
Cortland went to work in the bottom of the eighth inning. Kelley had a lead off walk and he scored on a double to left-centerfield by Dylan Ketch to tie the game at 5-5. A sacrifice bunt by Tyler McKeon moved Ketch to third and Houts drew a walk to chase Jake Griffin from the mound. Keon Taylor came in to pitch and Grant executed his suicide squeeze bunt to score Ketch and give Cortland a 6-5 lead with two outs. Tatum doubled to the left field line to score Houts with a big insurance run. Tatum was the only multi-hit guy for the Crush as he went 3-for-4 at the plate.
Brenden Clanton climbed the hill for the ninth inning for Cortland. Clanton issued back-to-back walks with one out before getting a popout for the second out. An infield single by pinch hitter Collin Matthews loaded the bases before Gibbs flew out to Grant to end the game. Perreault got the win and Clanton the save for the Crush. Griffin suffered the loss for Onondaga.
“It was great to come back,” McConnell said. “When we got behind, the players didn’t get down. We chipped away, we made some substitutions and put some things together. We pull off a suicide squeeze to go ahead and we added another run. It feels good.”
For both Grant and Babcock, it’s nice to be playing college and summer ball in front of the home fans.
“Things didn’t work out with me Schenectady way,” Grant said finding his way to TC3. “I came back and it was probably the best decision of my life. I have had a lot of fun and played a lot of good ball. Hope to keep playing good ball.”
“It’s great,” Babcock added. “I really don’t like to travel. It’s actually fun being home and not having to worry about making my own meals.”
As for this level of competition?
“This level of competition is like nothing else I’ve seen,” Grant said. “Everybody’s good. When one guy doesn’t deliver, the next guy does. It’s a lot of fun.”
“You certainly see a lot better pitchers,” Babcock said. “The fielders are better and guys definitely hit the ball harder. You don’t see too many opposite field homers in junior college.”
Cortland is scheduled to play at the Syracuse Spartans this afternoon at 3 p.m.
Pre-game Sunday saw the Crush players working with Crown City Little League players. David Pitts, who does a a lot of work on Greg’s Field and throughout the City of Cortland tossed out the first pitch along with his son Kroy and daughter Madelyn.
Rome 7, Cortland 3: Joe Palmo was 2-for-3 in the Cortland loss at Rome Saturday. Dylan Ketch and Alex Flock added 2-for-4 efforts.
The Crush led 3-1 before Rome scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take charge.
Matt Baker and Joe Bramanti each went 3-for-4 to lead the Generals. Derek Miller was 2-for-4.