By Rob Potter
NEW PALTZ The combination of great pitching, timely hitting and the ability to take advantage of errors by the opposition enabled the Livingston Manor Wildcats to become the 2009 Section IX Class D baseball champions.
Second-seeded Manor defeated No. 1 seed S.S. Seward, 6-3, in Wednesday afternoon’s Class D title game at SUNY New Paltz.
With the win, Manor (14-8) advances to the state semifinals for the first time in school history. The Wildcats, who reached the sectionals for the first time since the mid-1990s, will play their state semifinal game at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 13 at Union-Endicott High School.
Manor received a bye into the semifinals because there are no Class D representatives from Sections I, VIII or XI.
But to reach the state final four, the Wildcats had to overcome an early 2-0 deficit against the Spartans.
Seward (17-9), which was the 11th-ranked Class D team in the New York State Sportswriters Association poll released on Sunday, scored those two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Leadoff batter Nick Ullman singled to left field and proceeded to steal second base and third base. He then scored on a passed ball.
After Manor pitcher Ross Abbott struck out the next two batters, Shane Kinley doubled down the right field line. Kinley scored when then next batter, Nick Salamone, hit a bloop single into shallow center field.
The Wildcats took the lead for good by scoring four runs in the top of the third inning.
The first two batters of the frame, Troy Correa and Justin Miranda, both reached base on errors. Abbott then singled to right field to bring Correa in to score.
Miranda was able to cross home plate when a throw by Spartans’ catcher Justin Velez to pick off Miranda at third base was errant.
Ken Fisk then reached second base on a single and another Spartans’ error.
Manor took a 4-2 advantage when Abbott and Fisk both scored on Mike Mills’ single to center field.
The Wildcats made a stellar defensive play in the bottom of the third. With one out and Salamone on base, Anthony Rico singled to center field. Salamone tried to score on the base hit, but he was tagged out at home plate on an excellent relay throw from center fielder Correa to pitcher Abbott to catcher Shane Lewis.
However, Seward was able to score later in the frame. With Rico on third base and Velez on second base, Justin Sinisi struck out. But the ball got away from Lewis and Rico sprinted home to cut the Wildcats’ lead to one run.
Manor got that run back in the top of the fourth. Chad Rosario started the inning with a single and moved to third base on Correa’s double to right field. Rosario scored when Miranda hit a sacrifice fly to center field to give the Wildcats a 5-3 advantage.
The Wildcats scored their final run of the day in the top of the seventh. Fisk, who was hit by a pitch, moved to second base on a groundout and went to third on a passed ball, crossed home plate on a double by Troy Edwards.
Seward attempted to rally in the bottom of the seventh as Salamone reached base on an error with one out. But Abbott, who struck out seven batters in earning the complete-game win, induced two infield fly balls to end the contest.
“This is a great feeling,” Manor Coach Jeff Loeffler said moments after the game. “This was our goal from the beginning of the season. We finished 6 and 10 last year, but we knew we had a good group of players coming back for this season. So we set some high goals for ourselves this year.
“But it’s not over,” he added. “We still want to win two more games.”
Loeffler noted that winning the Section IX Class D title was no easy task.
“We had to overcome two major obstacles in Chapel Field and Seward,” he said. “Coach [Joe] Canazon at Chapel Field and Coach [Bill] Steele at Seward are great coaches and they always have their teams ready to play.”
After receiving the championship plaque from Section IX Baseball Representative Phil Pompeii, the Wildcats passed the plaque to each other. They all smiled as they clutched the plaque in their hands and many of them hoisted it above their heads in celebration.
“This feels amazing,” Lewis said. “Everybody did good.”
The senior catcher noted that the Wildcats improved as the game moved along.
“I think were nervous in the beginning,” Lewis said. “We made some errors. But then we settled down and played better. We started to believe in ourselves and that we could win this game.”
Steele noted that Manor’s third inning was the turning point of the game.
“That third inning killed us,” he said. “We made five errors and they took advantage of them to score four runs. You take away that third inning and you never know what could have happened.
“You have to give credit to Ross Abbott,” Steele continued. “He pitched a great game. We got to him a little in the first inning and scored a couple of runs. I think if we had scored some more, we could have knocked him out of the game.”
Steele noted that this was the third straight year the Spartans lost the Class D title game after making mistakes that led to a big inning for the opposing team. In 2007 and 2008, Chapel Field was the team which defeated the Spartans to capture the title.