FORT PLAIN - Thursday's Section II Class C quarterfinal baseball game between third-seeded Fort Plain and sixth-seeded Hoosick Falls was a classic pitcher's duel.
Fort Plain's ace Marcus Failing tossed a 2-hit, 14-strikeout gem, while the Panthers' Cody LaFlamme put together a strong 1-hit 10 strike out performance.
The game came down to Hoosick Falls making the most of an opportunity when it appeared.
The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis
Hoosick Falls catcher Logan Brogue and Fort Plain’s Tim Wolfe (20) react after Wolfe’s line-drive was caught to end Thursday’s Section II Class C quarterfinal game.
With one out in the top of the third, the Panthers' number nine batter Bubba Willett took one for the team as he was hit by a Failing pitch. Failing sandwiched a pair of walks around a strike out, loading the bases. LaFlamme hit a sharp grounder to short that was bobbled by Dakota Nemecek. Nemecek recovered the ball and threw to first but not before LaFlamme reached the bag and Willett scampered home.
The run was the only one scored as LaFlamme kept the Fort Plain batters off balance and his teammates made the plays behind him to secure the 1-0 upset victory over the defending Class C champion Hilltoppers.
"We talk about that all the time . . . it is the little things that win ballgames," Hoosick Falls coach Mike Lilac Jr. said. "There is not a real big margin of error when you get in a game like this. These kids have been in big games before in all kinds of sports, so they really don't get rattled. We just made a couple more plays than they did. This was two great programs going at it."
Hoosick Falls advances to play No. 2 Rensselaer at 4 p.m. Saturday at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam. Also advancing to the semifinals was Voorheesville, which knocked off top-seeded and previously undefeated Hoosic Valley 11-0. The Blackbirds will face the winners of today's quarterfinal game between No. 13 Canajoharie and No. 5 Greenwich.
Failing, who pitched three innings of no-hit ball Tuesday against Warrensburg, surrendered a two-out single to Tanner Williams in the top of the first but left him stranded on base by striking out LaFlamme to end the inning.
The Hilltoppers got their first base runner in the bottom of the second when Nemecek worked the count for a walk with one out.
The Panthers got the big play when they needed it when third baseman Billy Pine snagged a hard line drive off the bat of Joey Ray and fired across the diamond in beat Nemecek back to the bag for an inning-ending double play.
The Panthers got a break in the top of the third when Willette was hit by a pitch and came around to score on an error.
Fort Plain threatened in the bottom of the fourth when Failing hit a ground ball down the first baseline that Cody Gaines knocked down but could not control as Failing beat LaFlamme and the throw to the base. Failing advanced to third when LaFlamme's pick-off attempt sailed over Gaines' glove.
LaFlamme recovered and stranded Failing at third by striking out the Hilltoppers' third and fourth hitters in the batting order to get out of the jam.
The Hilltoppers broke up LaFlamme's no-hit bid in the bottom of the sixth when pinch hitter Jesse Heroth, an eight-grader, lined a clean single to left field. He was greeted by high fives from his teammates as Trent Douglas replaced him on the base paths.
Again, Hoosick Falls came up with the big play to end the Hilltoppers threat.
Zach Sweet squared around to bunt Douglas over, but the attempt popped up in foul territory where Gaines raced in to make a running catch for the out and LaFlamme came through with his ninth strike out of the game to get out of the inning.
The Panthers picked up their second hit of the game in the top of the seventh, when Alex Lilac followed a one out walk to John Curtis Whitman to put runners on first and second. Whitman advanced to third and Lilac was forced at second on a grounder by Pine. Failing came through with his 14th strike out of the game to get out of the inning.
With the heart of the Fort Plain line up coming up in the bottom of the seventh, the Hilltoppers were confident the game was not over.
"I think that is a tradition that I and the coaches are able to bring to the table," Phillips said of his team's confidence in themselves to come through. "I knew we would have trouble with Hoosick Falls because we did not face their number one [in the tournament]. The kid is a great pitcher but I would take my pitcher against him any day. One thing about our program is we don't complain about whom we are playing, we just show up and play."
Chris Hanifin and Harold Dettmer both sent drives to deep center field that Josh Mulready corralled before Nemecek and Ray kept the Hilltoppers alive with back-to-back walks.
Tim Wolfe stepped in and lined a solid shot toward right field that Lilac reached up over hit head to grab for the final out of the game.
"Joey hit one really hard that I thought was going over the second baseman's head," Phillips said. "Dakota would have scored and we would still be playing. But the kid made a big play."
Coach Lilac said he was pleased with LaFlamme's performance after having to use the senior starting in relief in Tuesday's victory over Galway.
"He did throw five innings the other day but only threw 58 pitches," Coach Lilac said. "As of yesterday, we didn't think he was going to be able to go. We asked him today and he said he never felt better and was good to go. He did a great job keeping his pitch count down, we made great plays behind him and there you have it; a 1-0 game."
Fort Plain closes out the season with a 16-3 overall record after sharing the Western Athletic Conference North title with Saratoga Catholic with an 11-1 record.
"Chris [Hanifin] and Harold [Dettmer] were the only two guys who came back that had any real playing time," Phillips said. "We will have eight starters back next year."
Dettmer and Ray Ponte Jr. are the seniors on the Hilltoppers' 2012 roster.
No. 6 Hoosick Falls 1, No. 3 Fort Plain 0
Hoosick Falls001 000 0 - 1 2 2
Fort Plain000 000 0 - 0 1 2
LaFlamme and L. Brogue; Failing and Sweet.