By MICHAEL KNAUFF
The game had been scoreless for 10 and two-thirds innings.
The host Cortland Crush were trying to walk off Wednesday’s opening game of the best-of-three NYCBL Eastern Division championship series off with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning and the Syracuse Salt Cats were trying to send it to the 12th.
With two outs and two strikes, Nick Pastore hit a bleeding single into center field to keep the inning alive. Dylan Nolan followed that up with his second double of the night, slipping a hard ground ball down the leftfield line to put runners on second and third.
“I was trying my best to get him (Pastore) first to home,” Nolan said. “I saw a little hole down third, turned on an inside pitch and it ended up working out for the best.”
Sean O’Malley then walked to the plate.
“We got second and third on with two outs and I’m walking up the plate thinking ‘Just got to do my job and hit the ball hard somewhere,’”O’Malley said. O’Malley worked Salt Cats relief pitcher to a 2-2 count and then got a pitch to hit. The designated hitter pushed a hard ground ball in between short and third and scored Pastore from third to give the Crush the win.
“It’s not really something you can describe, you’ve just got to be in the moment for it,” O’Malley said. “It’s an awesome feeling. I’m just happy for our teammates.”
“Clutch, he didn’t try to do anything with the bat, two strikes through the six hole and here we are winning,” head coach Bill McConnell said of O’Malley’s game-winner.
The victory puts Cortland a victory away from reaching the NYCBL finals for the first time in team history. The two teams meet today at 7 p.m. at ONondaga CC; the third game, if necessary, will take place Friday at 7 p.m. back at the Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex.
Pitching dominated the vast majority of Wednesday’s game. Crush starter Zach Kemp had a no-hitter going through the first six and a third innings and kept the Salt Cats hitters off balance.
“Every pitch I was feeling today, I was spotting everything up,” Kemp said. “You try not to think about it (the no-hitter), but you blame that when you let up the hit, thinking about it.”
Kemp ended up going seven full scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out five and walking three.
“I don’t think we could ask any more, he kept us in the ballgame,” McConnell said.
Salt Cats starter Jack Dicenso went pitch-for-pitch with Kemp. Dicenso got out of three runners- on-third situations in the first five innings of the game and kept the game scoreless.
Relief pitching took over in the eighth. Jonathan Triesler allowed one base runner, pitching a near-flawless eighth and ninth inning. Garrett Bell then recovered after allowing a leadoff double in the 10th inning, keeping the Salt Cats scoreless through the 11th.
“They were solid, they came in, gave us what we wanted, got the outs and gave us a chance to compete,” McConnell said.
The Crush had a chance to win the game in the 10th. Nolan led off the frame with a double to left-center field and the bases eventually became loaded with only one out.
Jack Lynch tried to lay down a bunt, but it popped over the head of Minor on the mound and froze Nolan, who was at third. This allowed Xander Ferlenda to throw out Nolan at the plate. Garrett Callaghan then struck out with the bases loaded to send the game to the 11th.
“We hit the ball well, but we left probably 12 base runners on base tonight and we can’t do that,” McConnell said.
Nolan led the Crush the plate, recording three of the winners’ eight base hits on the night. “The last couple days I worked on some adjustments, really just wanted to quiet up my step and my load.”
Callaghan led the game off with a triple to right field, his lone hit of the night. Anthony Cieszko had a double and reached third twice. Alex Flock also had a base hit.
“I think we’ll win it,” Pastore said in looking ahead to tonight’s game. “I have confidence in our guys to play hard, play right and just win the game.”
“This is just such a big momentum pusher for us for tomorrow and the rest of the playoffs,” Nolan said.
The Niagara Power rallied from a 1-0 deficit with nine runs over its final two at-bats Wednesday for a 9-2 win over the visiting Mansfield Destroyers in the first game of the Western Division finals. The teams meet today in Mansfield and, if necessary, back in Niagara Falls on Friday.