By MICHAEL KNAUFF
NIAGARA FALLS — The Cortland Crush needed to win twice in Sunday at Niagara in order to claim the NYCBL championship.
Cortland had fallen to the visiting Niagara Power 10-6 Saturday in the opening game of the best-of-three championship series and needed a pair of road wins to bring home the title. The Power, however, denied Cortland even a chance for a third game, recording 15 base hits and roughing up Cortland’s pitching en route to a 12-6 win in game two of the series to earn the hardware.
“They can really swing the bat, hats off to them,” left fielder Alex Flock said. “They’re a really talented team.”
“We knew we were going to have a dogfight all day,” shortstop Jack Lynch said. “We knew we had to put up runs. I thought we fought and battled the whole time, an unfortunate outcome but a great season for sure.”
Despite falling in the title game, this was the furthest any team in Crush history has made it in the postseason. Cortland won its first Eastern Division title, sweeping the Syracuse Salt Cats, and made the NYCBL title game for the first time ever.
“I’m extremely proud,” Flock said. “Being here three years and to give Coach Mac (Bill McConnell) a successful season, in my last season, was really important coming into this year.”
Flock is the only player to ever play three seasons with the Crush.
Cortland’s offense showed up to hit in game two, notching 12 base hits for the day. The Crush jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Sean O’Malley hit an RBI single that scored Garrett Callaghan, who wound up 2-for-3 on the day with a double, an RBI and a run scored.
“The guy (Niagara starter Erik Johnson) was attacking us with fastballs early and guys had good approaches against that,” third baseman Steven Bennett said.
The Power responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame, highlighted by Dylan McNary’s RBI triple.
The Crush tied the game up at 2-2 in the third. Flock led off the frame with a triple and then scored on Nick Pastore’s single. The visitors then wrested the lead away in the top of the fourth. After Kam Holland reached on an error, Lynch recorded one of his three base hits on the day in three at-bats with a run scored to bring him home. Callaghan made it 4-2 with his double that plated Lynch.
“We saw a lefty and a lot of lefties try to go away on me,” Lynch said. “So, I was really trying to shoot it to left field and I was able to do that.”
After the Power tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the frame and took the lead 5-4 in the fifth, the Crush rallied again in the top of the sixth. Callaghan belted his second double of the game, scoring Anthony Cieszko to tie the game at 5-5.
However, the flood gates opened after that. Niagara scored five runs on six hits, including three consecutive doubles to get things started, an RBI triple by McNary and Isaiah Corry’s two-run single to go up 10-5 and seal the outcome.
“We just kind of fell apart with the pitching,” third baseman Stephen Bennett said. “They just kept adding on and adding on and, like (pitching coach) coach (Ryan) Stevens said, we just couldn’t stop the bleeding today.”
Niagara added to the lead in the bottom of the seventh on Adam Purdy’s two-run single.
The Crush scored their sixth run in the top of the ninth when Dylan Nolan tripled and scored on Cieszko’s RBI single.
Anthony D’Onofrio led the Power’s 15 hit attack, going 3-for-3 with double, RBI and run scored, while Frank Lucska went 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and three runs and Purdy swung a 3-for-5 bat with two RBIs and two runs. McNary finished the day 2-for-4 with two triples, two RBIs and two runs.
Scott Grant, the second of four Niagara pitchers, was the winner.
Pitching plagued the Crush for the second game in a row. After a solid start by Mike Viveiros, who gave up four runs on six hits over four innings, the bullpen fell apart. Combined, Cortland’s relievers allowed eight runs on nine hits and walked six batters. Ridge Walker, the first hurler on in relief of Viveiros, took the loss.
The Crush can still be proud as the first team from Cortland to win the NYCBL Eastern Division championship and earn a berth in the NYCBL finals.
“It’s special,” Bennett said. “It’s something that this group of guys is going to be able to have for the rest of our lives.”