By Rob Potter
FISHKILL When they came to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning of Tuesday afternoon’s first-round game of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region XV Baseball Tournament at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, the Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) Generals found themselves trailing the Rockland Community College Hawks, 7-0.
The determined Generals began chipping away at their deficit by scoring twice in that frame.
By the end of the eighth inning, SCCC had evened the score at 7-7. But an error in the top of the ninth allowed Rockland to score the go-ahead run.
Relief pitcher Johnny Wong then set down the Generals in order in the bottom of the ninth inning to preserve the Hawks’ 8-7 victory.
With the win, fifth-seeded Rockland (13-17) advanced to today’s semifinals to face No. 1 seed Dutchess Community College. SCCC, which was the fourth-seed in the tournament, ended its season with a 6-24 record.
The score was deadlocked at 7-7 when Rockland rallied in the top of the ninth. Ryan Spicer led off the frame with a single to center field. After an out was recorded, Matt Oetting singled and Andrew Wanamaker walked to load the bases.
Dan Roeser then hit a ground ball to the middle of the infield. SCCC shortstop Melvin Simmons snared the ball with his glove and quickly flipped the ball to second baseman Lenny Sepulveda to force out Wanamaker.
But Sepulveda’s throw to first in an attempt to complete a double play pulled first baseman Cesar De La Cruz off the bag, which allowed Roeser to safely reach base and Spicer to score the go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the frame, Wong ended the Generals’ season with a strikeout and two fly outs.
The Hawks grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Anthony Estevez scored on Chris Lupardo’s bloop single to center field.
Michael Barbetto and Estevez had RBI singles in the top of the second as Rockland extended its advantage to 3-0.
An RBI double by Bill Ribiero and a sacrifice fly by Wanamaker in the top of the third made it a 5-0 game.
Rockland added a pair of runs in the top of the fourth as Chris Landry hit a sacrifice fly and Lupardo singled home Estevez.
SCCC finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth. Bryan White began the inning with a single to left field and crossed home plate on Sepulveda’s double off the fence in left center field.
Sepulveda scored the Generals’ second run when the next batter, De La Cruz, ripped a single to center field.
The Generals scored twice in the bottom of the fifth to cut the Hawks’ advantage to 7-4.
Dan Mercedes, who beat out an infield grounder to start the frame, scored when White grounded out. Moments later, Simmons, who reached base with a single, scored when De La Cruz laced a double down the left field line.
SCCC added a run in the bottom of the sixth. Bienvenido Martinez led off by blasting a triple to deep left center field. He scored when the next batter, Brian Aponte, grounded out.
The Generals knotted the score at 7-7 in the bottom of the eighth. Christopher Gonzalez started the frame with by ripping a double to deep left center field. He scored when Aponte singled to center field. Aponte scored the tying run on White’s single down the left field line.
“Sullivan did a great job in coming back and tying the score,” Rockland Coach Joe Zeccardi said. “But we had an opportunity when they made a mistake in the ninth and we took advantage of it.”
Zeccardi also praised his relief pitcher.
“Johnny Wong came in and threw strikes,” Zeccardi said. “That’s what he is supposed to do in those situations.”
SCCC Coach Scott Cassidy was pleased with how his players competed during the game.
“When we were down 7-0, they could have put their heads down and folded for the rest of the game,” he said. “But they didn’t do that. They kept their heads up, showed some guts and played with a lot of heart.
“I am very proud of the way they played today,” Cassidy continued. “Even though it’s disappointing to lose this game, it was one of the best games we played all season.”
Although he noted that the defeat “was a tough way for our sophomores to go out,” Cassidy feels that the team has a bright future.
“We have a lot of freshmen coming back next season, so we have a great foundation to build on,” he said.