FONDA - Before the season, if one were to ask Fonda-Fultonville Braves coach Rick Palumbo if Zak Shaw would be his starter in the first round of sectionals this season, Palumbo would have said, flat out: "No."
"Especially after he pitched against [Saratoga Catholic] earlier in the year," Palumbo added.
But a three-hitter here, outdueling one of Section II's best pitchers in Voorheesville's Kevin Connolly there, and a solid outing, save for one inning, against Albany Academy last week and Palumbo said he's been just as good as anybody out there.
Fonda-Fultonville’s Lucas Calkins (1) prepares to slide into home plate behind Taconic Hills catcher Mitchell McComb during the sixth inning of a Section II Class B first-round playoff game at Fonda-Fultonville High School. (The Leader-Herald/Erich Neuhaus)
The sophomore proved that much Wednesday in the Braves' first-round playoff game.
Shaw struck out six, only allowed two walks and two hits during his six innings of work to help lead the seventh-seeded Braves past the 10th-seeded Taconic Hills Titans, 11-0, for their first sectional win since 2009.
"Zak is starting to make a name for himself," Palumbo said. "He kept them off balance."
With a sharp curveball, fluttering knuckleball and a lively fastball, the right-hander had three 1-2-3 innings and only faced more than four batters once - in the sixth when he walked his only two batters of the game. He finished his six-innings throwing an efficient 81 pitches.
The younger Shaw on the team, Kody Shaw is Zak's older brother and will get the start in today's quarterfinal game against second-seeded Schalmont, didn't look like a sophomore making his first Sectional start.
"I was pretty confident," Zak said. "I knew coming into the game we were playing pretty good lately. We're starting to get hot offensively, and defensively, we've played good the whole year."
All of the Braves' (13-8) 11 runs came in the second and sixth innings.
In the second, Kody gave his younger brother some run-support when he broke the game open with a bases loaded double to right center field that cleared the bases and ended the day for Taconic Hills starter Brian Ostrander.
The double came before Alex Kocjan and Charles Parslow added RBI singles in the two previous at bats and made the score 5-0, which was more than enough run support with how Zak Shaw was throwing.
"It gave us some breathing room, so we just relaxed a little bit," said Kocjan of Kody Shaw's double. "It made us more comfortable."
Kocjan did his fair share of work on offense too. He went 4-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored from his leadoff spot in the lineup.
The Braves pounded out 12 hits, including hitting five of them during the sixth when they batted around the lineup as nine-straight batters reached with two outs.
The Titans essentially used three pitchers during the Braves' six-run inning to get one out, considering the first two Braves batters were retired. But Fonda-Fultonville just teed off on whoever threw a fastball its way.
"Trying to look for fastballs, everyone was," Kocjan said. "Everyone was getting up to bat too, keeping the innings alive."
Kody Shaw finished with two hits and four RBIs, while Kevin Twardzik finished with a pair of hits and an RBI. The entire lineup reached base throughout the game and all but one scored a run.
"I thought the hitting and the pitching and catching was really good," Palumbo said.
Zak Shaw now hands the ball to his brother for today's game against second-seeded Schalmont at 4 p.m.
With the Braves not needing any emergency relief from Kody Shaw or Charles Parslow, Fonda-Fultonville's pitching is set up for a possible deep run through the tournament.
Parslow and Kody Shaw each threw no-hitters this year.
"I think our pitching is deep as anybody out there," Palumbo said. "They've been answering the bell."
First, Fonda-Fultonville must get past Schalmont, which already beat the Braves twice this season. Kody Shaw, though, threw a three-hitter against the Sabres in the very first game of the season.
With a little more offense against the Sabres - Fonda-Fultonville only scored one run in both losses - the Braves are confident the third time will be a charm.
"It's tough to beat a team three times, so we're going to be in there ready," Kocjan said. "We're hot so [we're confident]."
Despite the loss, this Taconic Hills' (8-9 overall) squad can certainly hold its head high.
It was the first time in 18 years the program made sectionals.
"This is our first taste," Titans second-year coach George Lagonia said. "None of these kids were born last time we made Sectionals. I can tell you there were a lot of jitters in the dugout."
Lagonia admitted his team wasn't on its game, but for the Titans first sectional appearance in a generation that included not a single winning season through five head coaches, the accomplishment stands by itself.
"It's massive just to get to the next step," Lagonia said.
"I've been emotional this year because they are just amazing kids."
The starting shortstop, Dylan Decker, and left fielder, Spencer Winters, were center pieces in the Titans revival and will be playing for Columbia-Greene Community College next year.
Fonda-Fultonville 11, Taconic Hills 0
Taconic Hills 000 000 0 - 0 3 2
Fonda-Fultonville050 006 x - 11 12 1
Ostrander, Dotterer (2), Arre (6), Decker (6), Arcuri (6) and McComb; Z. Shaw, Fiorenza (7) and Kowalski, Sammons (7).