Offense was once again at a premium between the Cortland Crush and the Syracuse Salt Cats Thursday in the second game of the NYCBL Eastern Division championship series.
After a 1-0 Cortland win in 11 innings in Wednesday’s series opener, the Crush and Salt Cats were tied at 1-1 heading to the top of the ninth Thursday night. The Crush were looking to reach the NYCBL championship series while the Salt Cats were trying to force a game three.
With two outs in the top of the ninth and Dylan Nolan at second, the Crush loaded the bases after back-to-back walks from Hayden Houts and Anthony Cieszko.
After the walks, Salt Cats manager Mike Martinez appeared to come out to the mound to take the ball from relief pitcher James Hurley, but opted to keep Hurley in. That decision proved to be costly. Jack Lynch came to the plate for the Crush and smacked a two-strike pitch into left field for a base hit, scoring Nolan and Houts with the decisive runs in what ended up a 3-1 Cortland victory.
“I know I’m in a big situation at that point,” Lynch said. “I knew he was probably going to pitch me away, so I was trying to drive it to left the whole time. It was a curveball low and out, I just tried to fight it off, but I got lucky and hit it down the left field line.”
Cregg Scherrer came into the game on the mound for the Crush in the bottom of the ninth and did what he’s been doing all season: saving games. The 18-year-old recent Skaneateles graduate struck out the side to finish off the win, and the series.
“I really just tried to stay comfortable and do what I’ve been doing the whole season,” Scherrer said. “It (fastball) was feeling good, I felt like I had a couple good curveballs. I got curveball last pitch and I shook it off; I wanted that fastball.”
With the win, the Crush earned a berth in the NYCBL championship series for the first time in team history. They’ll face either the Niagara Falls Power or Mansfield Destoyers for all the marbles on Saturday and Sunday. Those two teams were set to play the deciding third game in the Western Division championship series today after Mansfield won 11-5 Thursday to knot things up at a game apiece.
“It feels like the Crush are hot,” starting pitcher Brandon Shirley said. “We have each other’s backs and that’s what it’s all about. We’ve been preaching family and coach (Bill McConnell) goes ‘Are we going to be a brotherhood or are we going to be individuals?’ We decided to come together as a team, and we went on a roll.”
Shirley pitched a tremendous game for the Crush, going seven innings, allowing only one run on five hits.
“I felt really lose on the mound today, great thing the boys had my back today defensively because they were putting the ball in play. They’ve had my back all year,” Shirley said.
The defense was flawless for Cortland, committing no errors.
Cortland jumped out to an early lead, scoring in the top of the first on Garrett Callaghan’s single to left field that scored Stephen Bennett and made it 1-0.
That score would hold until the bottom of the seventh, when the Salt Cats’ Rocco Leone hit a pinch-hit triple to center field and then scored on Luke Smith’s single to tie the game at 1-1.
The Crush managed only five base hits on the night but also drew five walks.
Cortland was swept in regular-season doubleheaders by both Mansfield and Niagara Falls. The Destroyers took two in Cortland, 9-7 and 7-6, on June 8 while the Power won twice at home, 7-2 and 9-8, on June 17.
“It feels awesome, but we’ve got more work to do,” Lynch said. “We played Mansfield in the first week of the season, when we were slumping a bit, and against Niagara we lost two but should have won one at least. Whoever we face, they’ve got good pitching, good offense, we’re going to have to have good defense and just keep swinging the bat well. I think we’ll be all right.”
If Niagara wins tonight, the Crush host the opening game of the league championship series Saturday at 4 p.m. and head west on Sunday for a second and, if necessary, third game. If Mansfield prevails, Cortland visits the Destroyers on Saturday and then hosts the deciding game or games on Sunday starting at 1 p.m.