By MICHAEL KNAUFF
Forty-one games later, and the road to the NYCBL championship goes through Cortland in the East Division.
The Crush finished the 2019 regular season 27-13-1 and with 55 points, nine points ahead of the second-place Syracuse Salt Cats.
Since starting the season 3-6-1, Cortland has gone 24-7 to finish the regular season. Cortland is 9-4 since the all-star break on July 8 and will now await the winner of the one-game wild-card between the Syracuse Spartans and the Salt Cats, which will be played at 7 p.m. today at Onondaga Community College after being postponed by rain on Monday.
The Crush will host one of the Syracuse teams on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex in the first game of the East Division championship series. Game two will be Thursday at Onondaga CC and if necessary, game three will happen Friday in Cortlandville at 6 p.m.
The Crush is powered by potent bats and prolific pitching and is among the best in the NYCBL in hitting and pitching. Cortland finished the season with a .286, good for fourth in the league. The Crush finished with five players who hit .300 or better on the season.
Alex Flock led the team at the plate, hitting .380. He finished fourth in the league in that category.
Flock was tops in the NYCBL in numerous other categories as well. He ended up first in runs scored (37), RBI’s (32) and tied for first in base hits (49). Flock also ended tied for second in doubles (11), third in walks drawn (26), tied four fourth in home runs (four), tied for third in stolen bases (17) and second in on-base-percentage (.497).
Due to his remarkable season, Flock was named the team MVP and won the team Silver Slugger award.
Nick Pastore also posted some jaw-dropping stats. The all-star centerfielder ended with a .323 batting average and 43 base hits. Pastore hit for contact and power, recording five doubles, three triples and two home runs.
Most impressive though, Pastore led the NYCBL in stolen bases with 31 to set a new Crush single-season record. Pastore also had a staggeringly low 10 percent strike out rate.
Garrett Callaghan finished second on the team in batting average, hitting .351. He drove in 20 runs and committed no errors in the field.
Jack Lynch hit exactly .300 and ended up second in the NYCBL in RBI’s with 28.
Sean O’Malley hit .333 for the year and ended with eight doubles and three home runs.
Despite missing the .300 mark, Stephen Bennett hit .294 on the year and recorded 12 extra base hits (six doubles, two triples and four home runs).
The pitching staff, thanks to pitching coach Ryan Stevens, has made massive improvement over the course of the season. The team finished with a 3.65 team ERA, the second-lowest in the league.
However, the rotation was at its best at the end of the season. In the month of July, the Crush pitching staff posted a 2.84 ERA.
The arms were led by Brandon “Buzz” Shirley. Shirley and Zach Kemp were named co-Pitchers of the Year for the Crush.
Shirley ended the year with a 1.57 ERA and a 5-0 record. He recorded three shut out performances and had a 3.25:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Kemp finished with a 2.25 ERA and a 4-0 record. He walked only four batters in 28 innings of work.
The bullpen made enormous strides over the course of the season. Recent high school graduates Garrett Bell and Cregg Scherrer combined for 13 saves and had a combined ERA of 1.12. Jonathan Triesler, after a rough start to the season, hasn’t allowed an earned run since June 25th in nine appearances.
Cortland finished the season 4-4 against the Spartans and 5-3 against the Salt Cats, so it will be a tough test for the Crush taking two against either team.
The Spartans (20-22) boast the second-best offense in the league, hitting .288 as a unit. However, the Crush have done a decent job of limiting the Spartan offense. The Crush allowed 4.5 runs a game to the Spartans, as opposed to the 5.2 runs game that they usually score.
Spartans outfielder Corey McMann finished second in the NYCBL in batting average, hitting .384. He also drove in 27 runs, recorded five home runs and notched 43 base hits.
The Spartans finished the regular season by winning six of their last 10.
The Salt Cats (20-18-2) win games with pitching and strong defense. The team ended with the third-best ERA in the league (4.19) and held the Crush to 5.25 runs a game, below their season average of 6.73.
The Salt Cats also had the highest fielding percentage in the league at .965 and committed only 49 errors.
However, the Crush have won three of the last four game between the two teams and held the Salt Cats to 3.75 runs a game this season.
Kemp will start the divisional series opener on Wednesday. He has a 2-0 record in three outings against the Salt Cats and has allowed only three runs in 11 innings. He has yet to face the Spartans.
Shirley will start game two on Thursday. The left-handed all-star has seen the Salt Cats once, pitching five innings of shutout ball to pick up a win. He has faced the Spartans twice and has won both games, allowing two runs in 11.1 innings with eight strikeouts.