Hilltoppers come up short in title game

Fort Ann's Jeremy Johnson knocks the ball loose from Fort Plain catcher Brady Fureno during a play at the plate in the third inning of Tuesday's Section II Class D championship game at Joe Bruno Stadium. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)

TROY — The Fort Plain Hilltoppers’ quest for a second straight Section II Class D championship came to an end Tuesday at the hands of the Fort Ann Cardinals.

The second-seeded Cardinals used a strong slugging and pitching combination to defeat top-seeded Fort Plain, 7-1 to claim the Class D championship Tuesday afternoon at Joe Bruno Stadium on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College.

“When we beat them 2-1 (2016 title game), their coach (Dane Clark) shook my hand and said, ‘You’re the state champions,'” Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips said. “Well, I’m going to say the same thing. They’ll be state champions. Nobody’s going to beat them. Sometimes, you’ve got to admit teams are better than yours, and today they were definitely better.”

The loss also marked the end of a five-year standout varsity career for the Hilltoppers’ Drew Fureno, the lone senior on a squad with six sophomores, six freshmen and an eighth-grader.

“My career, as a whole, I couldn’t ask for much more,” Fureno said. “Being here three times, winning a sectional championship, regionals and states. Last year was the icing on the cake, but this year was very special as well. Coming in, we knew this team was very young and different from the others. I really tried to get the most out of each of them, to really work hard. As a teammate or a coach, you really can’t ask for more than that. These guys came to play every day, and I’m very proud of them.”

Fort Ann got off to a fast start, putting a run on the board in the top of the second and three more in the top of the third.

The Hilltoppers came up with what would be their lone run of the game in the bottom of the third when Jaxson Yacowenia led off the inning with a single, stole second and crossed the plate on Fureno’s double to deep left field.

Fort Plain threatened again in the bottom of the fourth, with Bryce Thibodeau and John Cortese reaching base with a single and double respectively.

However, Fort Ann catcher Jeremy Johnson came up with a pair of heads-up defensive plays, catching both players in run-downs to end the threat.

The Cardinals pitching backed up their hitting as starter Garrett Bailey, who allowed one run, four hits and struck out five, gave way to Tyler Mattison for the final two innings to lock up the victory.

“Let’s be honest, with those two guys (Bailey and Mattison) pitching,” Phillips said with a smile. “One kid I put up to bat said he never even saw any of the pitches.”

Jon Allen led Fort Ann (16-2) with three triples, while Johnson had a pair of triples. Sawyer Lunt delivered a double and two singles, while Mattison added a pair of singles to go with three strike outs in two innings of work in relief on the mound.

Drew Fureno and Cortese both doubled for Fort Plain, while Thibodeau, Mike D’Arcanelis and Cameron Dillenbeck all singled for the Hilltoppers as they closed out the season with a 16-3 record.

“This was a group of outstanding kids. They never missed a practice, didn’t talk back and they made it a lot of fun,” Phillips said. “There was no pressure on us. We lose Drew but you look around. We had a freshman catching, an eighth-grader playing third, a sophomore on the mound and a freshman on first, a sophomore in left, a sophomore in center and a freshman in right. That says a lot for our future.”

Fureno, who is headed to play baseball at LeMoyne College next year, agreed.

“They have a bright future,” he said. “I think the chemistry is there. This experience alone, even though it wasn’t victorious, I think it was a great experience to have under their belts. These guys are still in eighth, ninth, 10th grade. They’ve still got at least two years on the varsity and this experience right here will give them peace of mind in the future and let them know it’s not too big. This was the ultimate goal. We were here and I couldn’t be happier with this team.”

Class D Championship

Fort Ann 7, Fort Plain 1

Fort Ann 013 110 1 — 7 12 0

Fort Plain 001 000 0 — 1 5 3

Bailey, Mattison (6) and Johnson; Thibodeau, D. Fureno (3), Gifford (7) and B. Fureno.