By Ed Townsend
MARLBORO They had to fight through rain for the first two innings and a protest by Seward head coach Bill Steele.
But finally in a dramatic seventh inning rally Tri-Valley threw the monkey off its back and won the 2012 Section IX-Class C championship with a 2-1 victory over S.S. Seward Sunday afternoon at Marlboro.
Joe Mickelson scored the winning run after leading off the seventh inning with a double, advancing to third on a passed ball and scoring on George Baggata’s single over a drawn-in outfield.
The win helped erase the disappointment of last year’s devastating loss to Seward in the same championship game in which Tri-Valley blew a 7-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh.
This year’s matchup turned into a pitcher’s duel between Tri-Valley’s Baggata and Seward’s Anthony Bailey.
S.S. Seward scored early to take a 1-0 lead. In the third inning Bears short-stop Rodney Jester scorched a long double to center field, took third base on a pitch in the dirt and scored on an infield ground ball to even the score at 1-1.
Then came the controversial call which led to Seward’s protest. Umpire Cliff Hamlin ruled that Seward’s Joe Pillmeir stepped out of the batter’s box without calling for time, invoking an automatic strike.
Seward coach Steele disputed the call and protested the game. which was prematurely stopped as the Section IX official in attendance and the umpires convened. Ultimately they ruled there was no pitch. The protest was withdrawn.
In the top half of the seventh inning Pillmeir hit a single to right center and stole second base. He was stranded on second base after strong pitching by Baggata and a line drive caught by third baseman Joey Mickelson.
Baggata pitched the full seven innings giving up four hits and recorded seven strikeouts. Losing pitcher Bailey recorded eight strikeouts, allowed one walk, five hits and two runs.
Baggata remembers well last year’s game when Seward stormed back with eight runs in the seventh inning to win the title 8-7. He was on the mound in that catastrophic inning and gave up five of the Seward runs, even though a series of errors ultimately determined the outcome.
Baggata wasn’t sure he would even pitch again after that game as back problems sidelined him for much of the fall and winter.
To reach the championship game against Seward, Mickelson fired a two-hitter and struck out eight as the Bears defeated Chester 1-0 in a game that took just 80 minutes to play. The only run came in the second inning when Tyler Lopez singled, stole second and scored on an RBI by Steve McInerney.
Tri-Valley travels to Pace University in Pleasantville (Westchester County) Tuesday afternoon to play Section I champion Haldane in the regional final at 4 p.m.