Dutchmen baseball goes down on home runs
The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Picking grass: Sophomore pitcher Matt Pierce, left, fields the baseball for Guilderland during the Class AA quarterfinals at Shenendehowa last Friday; Conner Douglas, who is running down the first-base line, hit the ball. Pierce pitched into the sixth inning with a lead, but he gave up two consecutive home runs with two outs, and Shenendehowa won, 4 to 2.
CLIFTON PARK — It was a home-run festival at Shenendehowa last Friday for the Class AA quarterfinals, and Guilderland came out on the losing end.
Five of the six runs scored in the game came off of home-run blasts. These balls weren’t flying out of the ballpark; they had somewhere to go, and quickly.
Guilderland, the ninth (and last) seed, came out in the bottom of the sixth inning with a 2-to-1 lead after Ben Govel had driven in Cory Moore with a RBI double in the top half of the inning. Shenendehowa, the top seed — ranked first in the state — faced Dutch sophomore pitcher Matt Pierce, who had thrown very well, except for the home run given up to Matt Drum in the fifth inning.
“I can’t say enough about our guys,” Guilderland Head Coach Doug LaValley said after the 4-to-2 loss. “We pushed them [Shen] to the limit, they know that. I’m sure they didn’t want to play us.”
In the sixth inning, Pierce got Brad Pearson to ground out and Kyle McAlonie to strike out with no swing, but Matt Bloise reached base with a double. Pitching to Brennan McCormack with two outs, Pierce seemed to shake off a pitch call. Off a fastball, McCormack smacked the ball over the fence for a 3-to-2 Shenendehowa lead.
The next batter, Justin Yurchak, took Pierce deep to right field for another home run. The pitch was another fastball inside.
“They hit me, nothing else than that,” Pierce said after the game; he was distraught. “They have great hitters, and they got the best of it, so you have to give them credit.”
LaValley said that during the sixth inning, Pierce had shaken off some curveball pitch calls because he didn’t feel confident with his curveball. “Hey, we had two outs and they scored three runs,” said LaValley. “Let’s make a pitch and see what happens.”
Pierce said that Coach LaValley and his Dutchmen teammates had full confidence in him. He had been in tense situations before, he said, but the pressure of last Friday’s game seemed more appropriate for a college baseball stage.
“It just sucks to lose; worst feeling in the world,” said Pierce followed by a deep breath. “This is terrible.”
Giving up a late lead in any game is rough, but it’s worse in the playoffs. The Dutch seemed depleted in the top of the seventh inning, and Shenendehowa pitcher Aaron Kalish made swift work of the Guilderland batters to end the game.
“You have to go out there and battle, fight,” LaValley said. “I love these guys. They give me everything they’ve got, and that’s all I could ask for. They’re a pleasure to coach, and I’ll never forget them.”
“I love my team, and I’ll miss the seniors so much,” added Pierce. “You get so close to these guys, and then they go.”
In the first inning last Friday, with two outs, Zach Formica gave Guilderland the lead with a solo home run. In the third inning, Pierce walked the first two batters, but the Dutch got out of the jam with two strikeouts and a ground out.
And, in the fourth inning, Shenendehowa had the bases loaded with two outs, but Pierce got McCormack to strike out with no swing.
Guilderland played a great game against a very good team, but a few bad pitches were the difference.
“Whoever plays the best will win,” LaValley said. “Until the sixth inning, we were the better team.”
Through the years, Guilderland has made playoff runs as the highest seed, the lowest seed, and every other seed in between. Despite its placement or record, LaValley said, the Dutchmen always play good baseball.
Guilderland seems like a more confident team when the postseason rolls around.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and we always talk about that,” said LaValley. “We prepare to get better as we go, better once the playoffs start, and that’s always our goal.”