TROY - After making an unexpected run to the Section II Class B championship game, the Johnstown baseball team had high hopes of ending its sectional title drought.
Those hopes were quickly dashed by a disastrous first inning as fourth-seeded Schalmont scored 10 runs in its first at-bat on its way to a 14-3 victory over the Sir Bills on Wednesday at Joe Bruno Stadium.
Seeking its first sectional title since 1968, sixth-seeded Johnstown was riding a six-game win streak coming into Wednesday's game and sent sophomore Connor Rodecker to the mound.
Schalmont’s Joe Wignot (11) holds the ball up in celebration after tagging Johnstown’s Richie Lee out at second base for the game’s final out during the Section II Class B championship game at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)
After Schalmont starter Jimmy Hamilton put the Sir Bills down in order in the top of the first, Rodecker's first pitch to leadoff hitter Greg Musk was lined off his left foot and to third baseman Matt Szurek who made the throw to first for the game's first out.
"Connor [Rodecker] struggled today," Johnstown coach Aaron Mraz said. "Getting hit in the foot on the first pitch certainly didn't help. He got hit in a game against Queensbury earlier this year, and he's been a little gun shy since."
Rodecker took a moment and a few practice pitches to regroup, but struggled with his control once the game resumed. After issuing a five-pitch walk to Dom Toma, Rodecker got John Pascarella to groundout to second for the second out.
"That first pitch set the tone for our offense," Schalmont coach Bob Anderson said. "It threw their pitcher off his game a little bit, and they struggled to find the strike zone. When they did find the strike zone, we did a good job of hitting the ball."
It was the final out that he would record as he walked Andrew Cote before giving up a single to Hamilton that landed just inside the rightfield line, scoring Toma and Cote.
Rodecker then walked Joe Wignot and gave up a single to Tyler Smith to load the bases. Rodecker walked Anthony Yezzo with the bases loaded, scoring Hamilton and making the score 3-0. Yezzo was the final batter Rodecker faced as Mraz brought Richie Lee to the mound. In two-thirds of an inning Rodecker, walked four and allowed two hits.
"Baseball is a game of inches," Mraz said. "If that ball that fell in down the line in right gets caught, we get out of the first inning. Instead we just couldn't get to it and the floodgates opened."
With the score 3-0 and the bases loaded, Lee surrendered five straight hits to the Sabres. Three of those hits went for extra bases.
Kevin Paskevich started the onslaught with a three-run triple to deep centerfield before Musk followed with a carbon copy triple to deep center that plated Paskevich, making it 7-0. Toma followed with an RBI single to left before Pascarella hammered a two-run home run over the wall in right field to give Schalmont a 10-0 lead. Cote added a first-inning single for the Sabres, who finished the first with seven hits, sent 14 batters to the plate and had all nine starters score in the opening frame.
"You can't ask for a better start than that," Anderson said. "We got rolling and just kept hitting the ball and scoring runs."
The shell-shocked Sir Bills put one runner on in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, but failed to score.
Rodecker had a second-inning single for Johnstown, while Lee reached on an error in the third. Joe Nellis had a double in the fourth for Johnstown and Josh Brown drew a walk in the fifth inning.
While Johnstown's offense struggled, Schalmont added to its lead with single runs in the second and third innings.
In the second, Lee walked the bases loaded with one out, forcing Mraz to bring Mike Everest to the mound.
Everest gave up an RBI groundout to Musk before getting out of the jam.
In the third, the Sabres got a double from Cote who scored on a fielder's choice by Smith to make it 12-0.
After a scoreless fourth and fifth inning, Schalmont scored its final two runs in the sixth against Johnstown ace Joe Nellis, who relieved Pat Morrison after Morrison got the final two outs of the fifth in relief of Everest.
Nellis gave up a leadoff double to Brion Dufek to start the inning and Paskevich reached on a dropped third strike.
Toma plated Dufek with a single to center and Paskevich scored on a groundout by Pascarella to make it 14-0.
Johnstown spoiled Hamilton's shutout bid in its final at-bat, scoring three runs on four hits.
Matt Crankshaw reached on a one-out single before reaching third on a double by Jon Heroth. Crankshaw scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Auty before Morrison smacked a two-out double to right to score Heroth. Lee plated Morrison with a single to right before he was tagged out going to second to end the game.
"The kids didn't give up," Mraz said. "They kept battling right to the end."
Schalmont, which defeated No. 5 seed Catskill and top-seeded Chatham to reach the title game, claimed its first sectional title since winning the 2006 Class A crown.
While Johnstown used five pitchers Wednesday, Hamilton went the distance for the Sabres.
"To spot Jimmy [Hamilton] 10 runs was just amazing," Anderson said.
Hamilton allowed six hits, struck out six and walked just one to earn the complete-game victory.
"[Hamilton] got into a good rhythm and pitched well," Mraz said. "He's a very crafty thrower and he kept us off balance."
Johnstown's quintet of pitchers allowed 12 hits, struck out two and walked nine.
"We gave up too many walks," Mraz said. "That made it tough on us."
Schalmont (19-4 overall) advances to the state Class B regionals on Monday. The Sabres will face the Section VII champion Monday at Plattsburgh State. Peru and Beekmantown will play for the Section VII Class B title today at Plattsburgh State.
"This is nice, but we've still got some baseball to play," Anderson said. "We've never won a regional game, and we would like to cross that off the list."
Johnstown finished its season with a record of 16-8.
The Sir Bills defeated 11th-seeded Cohoes, third-seeded Corinth and seventh-seeded Hudson to reach the championship game.
"We had a great season," Mraz said. "I'm very proud of this group. Nobody expected us to be here with such a young group."
Schalmont 14, Johnstown 3
Johnstown000 000 3 - 3 6 1
Schalmont(10)11 002 x - 14 12 1
Rodecker, Lee (1), Everest (2), Morrison (5), Nellis (6) and Caputo; J. Hamilton and Yezzo.