By Rob Potter
MOUNTAINDALE August 3, 2004 The first-ever Sullivan Spartans playoff victory was one that players and fans are sure to remember years from now.
In a game where the momentum shifted several times and each team had a few chances to score the potential winning run, the Spartans rallied in extra innings for a 6-5 win over the Newburgh Cardinals in the second game of their Collegiate Baseball League (CBL) best-of-three semifinal series.
The third and deciding game of the series was scheduled to be held last night at Valley Central High School in Montgomery.
Jeff ONeills two-out single in the bottom of the ninth allowed Jed Carrier to score from second base. Seconds after sliding across home plate, Carrier was met with high fives from his happy teammates.
This marks the first time since the Spartans joined the CBL in 2001 that the team has qualified for the playoffs. Sullivans heart-pounding victory tied the series at one game apiece. (Newburgh recorded a 3-0 win in Friday nights opener.)
Jeff got a great swing on the ball, said Carrier, who is the Spartans head coach and general manager. He put his bat on it and the ball went up the middle and almost hit me. It was just enough for me to make it around to score.
For most of the game, however, it seemed as though extra innings would not be necessary.
Newburgh took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Billy Green scored on a double by Ben Wild.
Sullivan got on the scoreboard in exciting fashion in the bottom of the fourth. Eddie Gonzalez led off the frame for the Spartans and quickly turned on a pitch from Cardinals hurler Nick Demaro. Gonzalez got his bat squarely on the ball, sending it flying over the right field fence for a game-tying home run.
The Spartans seemingly took control of the game in the bottom of the sixth. Andy Petersen led off with a single to left field and reached second base when Gonzalez grounded out. The next batter, Tim Gilmore, then hit a double to deep left field. Petersen scored on the play and Gilmore went to third base as the Newburgh outfielder threw the ball home in an unsuccessful attempt to get Petersen out.
Sullivan then successfully executed a suicide squeeze play as Gilmore broke for home plate when Carrier bunted. Both Gilmore and Carrier were safe on the play.
ONeill and Joe Carraccia followed with singles to load the bases with just one out.
After Newburgh recorded the second out of the inning, Mike Vicchiariello singled to left field. Carrier and ONeill scored on the hit to give the Spartans a 5-1 lead.
Down to their final three outs, the Cardinals rallied to tie the game. Green led off the top of the seventh with a solid double to left field. Wild walked and Charles Belfiore reached base on a bunt to load the bases with no outs.
Kyle Sinclair then replaced Rich Fello on the mound for the Spartans.
Newburghs Joey Greany greeted Sinclair by singling up the middle to cut the Sullivan lead to 5-3.
After striking out the next Newburgh batter, Sinclair got Mike Pagana hit an infield grounder for the second out of the frame. But Belfiore scored on the play, cutting the Spartans lead to just one run.
The Cardinals tied the contest at 5-5 when the next batter, Garrett Wasson, hit the ball down the third base line. Several Spartans players and fans thought that the ball hit in foul territory before bouncing over third base and rolling into left field. But the home plate umpire ruled that the ball was fair and Greany crossed home plate on the base hit.
Despite having two runners on base with only one out in the bottom of the seventh, Sullivan could not push the winning run across home plate.
After Sinclair set the Cardinals down in order in the top of the eighth, the Spartans again had two runners on with one out in the bottom of the frame. As was the case in the previous inning, Newburgh pitcher Shawn Pederson retired the next two batters to preserve the tie.
Sinclair got out of a jam in the top of the ninth. After retiring the lead off batter with a ground out, Sinclair accidently hit Belfiore with a pitch and allowed a single to Greany.
The righthander got the next batter to fly out to center field, but the ball was hit deep enough for both Belfiore and Greany to tag up. With those runners now on second and third, Sinclair struck out Wasson to end the Cardinals scoring threat.
This game could have gone either way at any point, Newburgh Manager Leo Timke said. They pulled it out and you have to tip your hat to them. You just cant look at the records of the teams and say that one team will win because of their record Thats why we play the games on the field.
Timke added that the Spartans always play us tough when we come up here.
Theyve got a lot of good players and they are well-coached, he said.
Carrier noted that pitching was very important in the game.
Rich Fello did a great job for us today, he said of the Spartans starter. My heart wanted to leave him in there [in the seventh inning], but we had to go to the bullpen. Kyle Sinclair came in and did the job for us. He gave up a couple of hits, but really shut them down the last two innings. He was a bulldog out there.
Carrier was happy with the performance of the entire team. He noted that on two other occasions this season, the Spartans held four-run leads late in the game but could not hold on for a victory.
These guys did a great job today, he said. There were a couple of times were we could have folded, but we didnt. We hung in there and got the win. Im so proud of these guys.