Back to back champions

JAMESTOWN – Over the past several years, the Westfield Wolverines have gained an abundance of valuable playoff experience.

With the outcome of Saturday’s Section VI Class D Championship game against North Collins at Diethrick Park hanging in the balance, that playoff experience was on full display.

After a tightly contested, back-and-forth affair which couldn’t be settled after seven innings, it was freshman Brock Schuster’s dribbler in between the pitcher and third baseman in the bottom of the eighth inning that scored teammate Eric Fermier to give the Wolverines a 2-1 win and their second consecutive sectional title.

The back-to-back champs were certainly tested by the resilient Eagles, however.

Westfield fell behind 1-0 early in the game and couldn’t manage to push the winning run across the plate after loading the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh.

But, the Wolverines never seemed to be rattled or panic. Instead, they just kept plugging away.

“This is the seventh year in a row we’ve been (in a sectional title game), said Westfield coach Doug Kaltenbach following his team’s thrilling win. “We’ve won 46 straight league games. I panicked more than they did.”

Fermier led off the decisive bottom of the eighth inning by lacing a single. Junior Max Bates then singled to put runners on the corners with nobody out. After a groundout allowed Bates to move up to second and Fermier to stay put at third, the stage was set for Schuster, who came through by putting the ball in play in an RBI situation like he has for Westfield all season long.

“Absolutely I do (trust him),” Kaltenbach said of the freshman third baseman.

“I was telling the paper the other day, as a freshman, I probably would say he’s my most reliable RBI machine. He really is. The kid is fearless for a ninth-grader and I mean, it wasn’t a pretty hit. He was like, ‘I didn’t even mean to hit it.’ … But, he did the job.”

While the Wolverines were finally able to scratch the winning run across, it was Greg Schroeder’s pitching on the mound that kept his team in the game while it was finding its rhythm at the plate.

In total, the senior right-hander hurled all eight innings, struck out 10 North Collins batters and did a tremendous job of keeping the Eagles off-balance.

His only hiccup came in the second inning, when North Collins’ Jake Jasinksi ripped a two-out double into the left-center field gap and came around to score on an RBI single from Nick Woronowski, giving the Eagles their 1-0 advantage.

“At first, the changeup, the slider and curve weren’t really hitting the zone,” Schroeder explained. “I had to mainly use fastballs. It seemed like as the game went longer, my fastball was working more. It just all worked out eventually. … Last year, we had Nolan (Hunt) and I was the second (starter), so it feels good to (help) lead the team this year.”

Kaltenbach raved about the effort of his senior ace on the mound post-game as well.

“I’m so proud and happy for the kid,” Kaltenbach emphasized. “He overcame all of his little fears and stuff and pitched outstanding.”

Even though North Collins was able to jump out to a slim lead, several key baserunning errors ultimately came back to hurt the Eagles late in the game. Sophomore Trevor Mercado did happen to turn in a valiant effort on the mound though, tossing six-plus effective innings.

“(Mercado) was effective,” said North Collins coach Paul Kellner, who saw his team lose to Westfield in the 2015 title game as well. “He gave us seven good innings against a good hitting team. I couldn’t ask for any more out of him.”

The tough loss could certainly serve as motivation heading into next season for the Eagles, as they are only losing one graduating starter.

“If this doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will,” Kellner explained. “Playing a good team and losing by one, we were right there. One big hit away from winning. That should make us hungry.”

Dylan Winter and Tanner Loretto also added hits for the Eagles.

Bates singled to start a rally for Westfield in the bottom of the fourth, stole second, aggressively moved to third on a groundout and then raced home on a ball that got past the North Collins catcher to tie the game at one.

Along with Bates’ two knocks, Fermier collected two hits, Schroeder helped himself with a base hit and Joe Quagliana added a single.

The Wolverines now advance to the Far West Regionals, which will take place Saturday at 4 p.m. back at Diethrick Park against a representative from Section V.

“I think it says everything about our team,” Kaltenbach said. “I think it says that we don’t quit. …We went to the state finals last year and we had heard from a lot of teams and other people that we wouldn’t do it (again) because of the guys we lost. I’ve coached 33 years and this is as proud as I’ve ever been of a group of guys. We’ll see what happens. One more (win) and we go to Binghamton.”

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