By Craig Harvey
For the first time in nearly 40 years, the Cassadaga Valley Cougars can claim they are Section 6 champions.
Cassadaga Valley’s Kyle Ruge slides safely into second base during Saturday’s Section 6 Class C championship baseball game at Diethrick Park.
Photo by Jeremy Izzio
Behind an effective pitching effort from Matt Hallowell, the Cougars knocked off No. 1 seed Westfield, 7-3, in the Class C title game at Diethrick Park.
"It's been a long time," Cassadaga Valley coach Joe Mistretta said. "Last year we won our first league championship in 30 years. Now we have a sectional title. It's a credit to the kids. We are not the best team around. We make errors, we make mistakes, but we make up for it with our heart and pride. The kids never quit. They just don't quit. They keep playing and coming at you and take advantage of opportunities. It's a credit to them that they go out there and play their hearts out every day."
As for the Wolverines, it was the fourth straight year their season came to a close in the sectional championship game.
See COUGARS, Page C2
"What I learned is it doesn't matter what you do until you get to this game," Westfield coach Doug Kaltenbach said. "We played our worst game of the season. I didn't even recognize my team out there. I'm shocked by the way we played."
The uncharacteristic play of Westfield started early as it committed two errors and star pitcher Nolan Hunt gave up three hits in the opening frame.
After getting two quick outs, Cassadaga Valley's Matt Heath ripped a single to center field and Hallowell followed with a single. An attempted pickoff attempt from Hunt went into center field to put runners on the corners. Tyson Gugino followed with a hard-hit ball down the first-base line which was misplayed, allowing Heath to score for the 1-0 lead. Crabtree followed with an RBI single to left field to plate Hallowell.
"There were balls that were hit that should have been easy plays," Kaltenbach said. "We played terrible. You can't win when you have 21 outs to make and we have to make 30 because of errors."
Despite the quick 2-0 deficit, the Wolverines were poised to get the runs back as Brandon Johnston and Jon Wilson reached on consecutive errors and Tanner Dahl drew a bases-loaded walk to start the bottom of the first. Robbie Burgess hit an RBI fielder's choice to score Johnston, cutting the deficit in half. Burgess promptly stole second base to put two runners in scoring position with one out. Hallowell escaped the jam as he got Hunt to strike out and Joe Quagliana to line out to the third baseman.
Like they did all day, the Cougars responded as its aggressiveness on the basepaths paid off in the second inning. After getting two quick outs, Hunt yielded a single to Kyle Ruge, who stole second and scored on a Jaquan Watts bloop single to left for a 3-1 lead.
"We have been doing that since I got here," Mistretta said about stealing bases. "That's part of our program. That's what we do and we are not going to stop doing it. We are not going to get conservative. We have kids who have speed. When they get on base, that's when things start to happen. We put pressure on the defense."
Cassadaga Valley added to its lead in the fourth inning. Shane Parsons led off with a triple, but was gunned down at home on Ruge's fielder's choice. However, Ruge was later caught in a rundown and tagged out. Watts followed with a single and scored off a triple from Heath to left field to make the score 4-1.
Westfield responded in the bottom half of the frame as Burgess led off with a double and moved to third on a Hunt bunt single. Hunt stole second to put runners in scoring position with no outs. Greg Schroeder hit an RBI sacrifice fly and Trevor North ripped an RBI single to score Hunt from second to cut the deficit, 4-3.
The fourth inning proved to be the last for Hunt as he gave up nine hits.
"They had hit him hard and had two triples in the fourth inning," Kaltenbach said of removing Hunt. "He did not have his good stuff and that's the way it is. I have enough pitching. I thought we could get through it. With that said, I have no second doubts of starting Nolan,. He has been dynamite for us. We just have a rough time here."
Mistretta had an explanation for why his team was so effective against one of the league's best pitchers.
"We saw Nolan two times in a row this year," he said. "Any time you see someone two times in a row, if you go to school on it and think about it, you know how his pitches break and what to expect. We put the bat on the ball a lot better. The first time we saw him he had 13 strikeouts."
The Cougars added an insurance run in the fifth inning as Crabtree walked and stole second. With two outs, Ellis' high fly ball to the infield was misplayed and Crabtree ran hard from second the entire way to score for a 5-3 advantage.
Ruge led off the sixth with a double and moved to third on a groundout. Ruge scored on an error in the outfield, which put Heath at second and made the score, 6-3. Heath came around to score on a RBI single from Gugino for the 7-3 victory.
When it was all said and done, the Cougars scored six of their runs with two outs and also had eight of their 11 hits with two outs.
"The inning isn't over until you get the third out," Mistretta said. "You treat every at-bat like there is no outs. Don't worry about how many outs there are. Look for a pitch to hit and things will happen. You can't put pressure on yourself just because there are two outs. Sometimes a pitcher doesn't want to make a mistake. He gets a little wild or too conservative. Once something happens, another good thing happens and before you know it, you have a nice inning."
Hallowell pitched a complete game with four strikeouts and just one walk, allowing his defense behind him to make the plays.
"He came up big today," Mistretta said. "He is a senior and has been pitching for four years. He took advantage of the opportunity. He let the kids behind him make plays and he came out on top. He keeps the ball down and he will get his occasional strikeout."
As for Westfield, Kaltenbach added, "It's been a great season. I am proud of these guys. I honestly did not think it would end this way. It will be a tough one to swallow."
"For me, I have been coaching a long time," Mistretta concluded. "I don't keep track of wins and losses. It's all about the kids. It's a special day for them. They deserve all the credit."