Championship Saturday set
GOWANDA – It’s the situation kids dream about in the backyard.
Bottom of the seventh, game tied, full count with the bases loaded.
Gowanda’s Cole Dailey lived that dream Thursday and delivered the game-winning hit to lift the No. 1 Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the No. 5 Southwestern Trojans in a CCAA Class B-2 semifinal high school baseball playoff matchup.
With the game tied at 3-apiece entering the bottom of the seventh, Joe Kruszka led off the inning for the Panthers by reaching base on an infield error.
The Trojans decided to walk cleanup batter Matt Kruszka, which brought Chase Williams to the plate.
Williams laid down what was intended to be a sacrifice bunt, but the ball found a hole in the defense and Williams reached base.
That loaded the bases for Dailey, who battled his way to a full count.
With the count sitting at 3-2, and the infield pulled in to the grass, Dailey hit a sharp groundball to shortstop.
Southwestern’s shortstop bobbled the ball, but still had time to come up firing home. The throw was on target, but Joe Kruszka slid into home headfirst for the game-winning run.
The Panthers immediately flooded the field and mobbed Joe Kruszka to celebrate the team’s victory, which earned them a trip to the B-2 championship game Saturday at Diethrick Park. Gowanda will face No. 7 Cleveland-Hill, which defeated No. 6 JFK, 18-7, Thursday.
“They battled,” Gowanda coach Tim Smith said. “That’s one thing about this team is that they will battle all game long. They battled from start to finish, and luckily came out on top. We need to be better at taking advantage of opportunities. Early on, we left eight out of nine potential runners on base in the first three innings. Hats off to (Southwestern); they played a great game.”
Southwestern opened the scoring in the top of the first as Matt Kruszka walked the first batter of the game and the Trojans followed with three-straight singles by Erik Priester, Noah Weinstein and Ben Burk.
Burk’s single drove in Nick Swanson, who had walked, and Priester scored on an infield error off the bat of Ryan Pascarella.
The Panthers answered with a big first inning of their own, but ended up leaving multiple runners on base.
John McCarthy and Ryan Boutelle drew back-to-back walks to open the inning and Joe Kruszka singled to load the bases.
Williams’ one-out single plated McCarthy, but in the following at-bat, Dailey flew out to right field and Boutelle was gunned down trying to tag and score.
Following a shaky first inning, Matt Kruszka settled into a groove and retired the next seven batters.
Meanwhile, Southwestern was forced to make a pitching change with no outs in the second inning.
Trojan lefty Niko Panes was pulled after walking a batter and hitting another to begin the second.
Weinstein entered in relief, but got in trouble of his own in the third.
A leadoff single and stolen base by Matt Kruszka got things going for the Panthers. He then stole third base, and when Southwestern attempted to throw him out while attempting the steal, the ball escaped into left field allowing him to score.
An RBI single by Josh Mitchell scored Dailey, who walked, and the Panthers took their first lead of the game, 3-2.
Matt Kruszka dominated the middle innings, but in the sixth, Southwestern struck for another run and tied the game on an RBI single by Jared Drocy.
The Trojans threatened in the seventh, but in the end, failed to get across a run, which allowed Dailey to play the hero.
Williams led the Panthers with two hits and an RBI. Matt Kruszka singled, scored a run and stole two bases while McCarthy, Boutelle and Joe Kruszka each added a run scored.
Matt Kruszka earned the complete-game win, striking out seven and walking two while scattering eight hits.
“Matt it probably one of the gutsiest kids I’ve ever come across,” Smith said. “He has started the past two years for a reason. He is a special kid. He wanted the ball and went out there and proved he deserved to get it.”
Burk had two hits for the Trojans in the loss while Swanson, Priester and Pascarella scored runs.
Panes took the loss for the Trojans, allowing a run on two hits, three walks and a hit batter.
Weinstein pitched solid in relief over the final six innings, allowing four hits and walking as many.
“The team played great, I can’t ask for more,” Southwestern coach Darin Beckerink said. “They played their hearts out and have played their hearts out all season long. They truly are what a team is. They back each other up and they did what they had to do.”