Far West bound
For the second straight year, the Fredonia Hillbillies (23-2) and Section 5’s Wayland-Cohocton Eagles (19-4) will meet to decide the Class B high school baseball Far West Regional champion tonight at 7 p.m.
Unlike last season’s contest at Dansville High School, this game will be played at Diethrick Park in Jamestown, much to the delight of Fredonia coach Vince Gullo’s players.
Wayland-Cohocton downed Fredonia in the Far West Regional, 8-7, last June. The game was originally called with the teams tied at 7 after seven innings of play and a two-hour rain delay because the field didn’t have lights.
The Hillbillies made the drive back to Dansville the next day for seven minutes of extra innings and lost after a fielding error allowed an Eagle runner to cross home plate in the bottom of the eighth. The two-day ordeal gave Gullo his first loss in the Far West Regional after wins in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
“As much as it hurt me, it hurt those guys 10 times more,” Gullo said.
But that’s last season.
“We’ve gotten over it,” Gullo said. “You know what, we’ll get another chance this year. It’ll be just as sweet this year if we pull out another victory. To get to the States, that’s everybody’s dream in baseball and now we’re here. Seven innings later, we’ll see what happens.”
Even though it’s a neutral site, Fredonia could treat Diethrick Park as a de facto home-field advantage. The Hillbillies defeated Akron May 29 and Tonawanda May 31 in a Sectional final and crossover game, respectively, in Jamestown. It’s also no coincidence Fredonia played Jamestown and Falconer in a doubleheader benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project there May 17.
“It’s definitely in our backyard,” Gullo said. “This will be our fifth game at Diethrick Park. My guys will be comfortable there, but it’s baseball. You’ve got to pitch and field better than the other team and get some timely hits. We prepared all year for this moment. My coach Tim Cowan scheduled a couple games there and we played a few night games this year.”
According to Gullo, either sophomore Cam Voss or senior Trent Thompson will get the start on the mound for the Hillbillies today with sophomore Weston Ley as the closer. Voss threw a complete-game three-hitter to propel Fredonia past Tonawanda in the Sectional crossover game while Thompson tossed a complete-game three-hitter of his own against JFK in the semifinal May 26.
“I think all three are going to get a shot at it,” Gullo said. “Cam and Trent want the ball. Weston will be our closer. If we hit our spots and limit the damage, we’re just going to see how it goes. We have three stud pitchers and we’re counting on all of them.”
Fredonia’s aces have their work cut out for them against a Wayland-Cohocton offense that hits .307 as a team and averages 8.5 runs per game. The Eagles are fresh off a 22-4 blowout of Palmyra-Macedon June 1 in the Section 5 Class B crossover game after scoring 12 runs in the sixth inning.
“I think they’re a strong offensive team,” Gullo said.
Meanwhile, the Hillbillies have given up four runs and committed two errors in four playoff games.
“I like our defense,” Gullo said. “Our defense has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs. They’ve all done a great job taking command. We know good pitching and defense wins championships.”
The Hillbillies actually have the better offensive numbers with 9.5 runs per game and scored 10 runs or more in 11 games.
It hasn’t been an easy task for Gullo and his coaching staff – Brian Bongiovanni, Greg Smith, Charlie LaDuca, Tim Cowan, Mark Lutz, Sal Flores and Brent Thompson – to keep the team focused on the main goal of returning to the Far West Regional and making it to States. The Hillbillies’ 18-game winning streak shattered the school record and drew attention to if or when it would end.
“We’ve done an excellent job in keeping everybody focused in short-term goals, fundamentals and long-term goals,” Gullo said. “We’re getting closer and closer to our long-term goal.”
Today could mark the final seven innings in the careers of Nick Hart, Jude Gardner, Zack Buckley, Chris Saden and Thompson if Fredonia can’t claim the Regional crown.
“My guys are ready for this and they’re going to come through, hopefully,” Gullo said.