The best of Division 2

FREWSBURG – The Cassadaga Valley Cougars bear all the hallmarks of a good, old-fashioned baseball team, relying on mental toughness, strong and durable pitching, defense, moving runners with bunts and, of course, aggressive baserunning.

“That’s the way my dad (Tom) taught me how to play the game,” Cassadaga Valley coach Joe Mistretta said. “He was a huge influence on me. He taught me how to manage like this. He was a great player, a great manager and a great man, and this is the way he did it.”

Sticking to the blueprint bestowed upon him all those years ago by his father, Mistretta guided the Cougars (12-6, 10-2) to a 9-5 victory over perennial powerhouse Frewsburg (11-7, 9-3), clinching a share of the CCAA Division 2 crown (with Portville) for the first time since 1974.

“I feel great for the kids,” Mistretta beamed. “They battled all year long. We didn’t have a great hitting team, but we got good pitching, took advantage of mistakes and were very aggressive all season.

“And that’s what happened today.”

The Bears issued 10 walks which gave Cassadaga Valley an abundance of baserunners. And the Cougars used every one of them to apply pressure on the Bears’ defense.

“(Aggressive baserunning) is their game,” Frewsburg coach Jay Grann said, “and, generally, we don’t give into it and they don’t have enough baserunners to really do it. But Joe’s an aggressive coach, he likes to run, he likes to bunt and he likes to squeeze and the best way to take him out of that is not to give him free baserunners.”

Along with the walks, Cassadaga Valley also took advantage of five Frewsburg errors.

The Cougars loaded the bases in the first inning on three walks, and chased starter Bryce Raymond from the game, after taking the early, 3-0 lead.

“Anytime you walk the bases loaded, (it’s tough),” Grann said. “They got three runs in the first without even hitting the ball out of the infield.”

Frewsburg answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning, but that would be as close as the Bears got.

After a shaky start, Cassadaga Valley pitcher Matt Hallowell bore down, as he finished with the complete-game victory to go with four strikeouts and three walks.

“Hallowell really gutted it out,” Mistretta said. “We don’t go deep into our pitching staff and he probably threw a little bit more than he should have, but he squeezed a few more (innings) in there and did it some way, somehow.”

With Hallowell dealing – only Brett Johnson, who went 2 for 3 with an RBI and three runs scored – the Cougars were free to work on their usual game plan against reliever Tage Johnson.

Cassadaga Valley extended its lead to two runs, 4-2, by the end of the second, and then three by the end of the third as Andy Ellis laid down a suicide squeeze just before Hallowell, who from third base was going on the throw, slid safely across home.

Twice more Mistretta called the suicide squeeze, and once more it worked.

“We kept the pressure on them the whole game, and when you put pressure on people, that’s when they make mistakes,” Mistretta said.

The Cougars put the game away in the fifth, as they scored three runs on two errors and another squeeze play at the plate.

Tim Bender led the winners with two hits in three at-bats, a run scored, a run driven in and two stolen bases. Hallowell followed with three runs scored, Heath had two hits and two runs scored and Ellis connected for two hits.