Fort Plain baseball ready for regionals

Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips (1) talks with his team during the Section II Class D championship game against Whitehall on May 26 at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)

FORT PLAIN — After upsetting top-seeded Whitehall in the Section II Class D championship game last week, the Fort Plain Hilltoppers stand one win away from making their second appearance in the state Class D final four in the past three years.

Standing in their way are the Section IX champion Tuxedo Tornadoes.

Fort Plain and Tuxedo will square off for the Regional championship at 3 p.m. today at East Field in Glens Falls.

“I don’t know much about them, just that they have a very good pitcher,” Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips said.

Phillips was referring to Tuxedo ace Joe Castellanos, who recorded a 17-strikeout performance in 6 2/3 innings of work against Livingston Manor in the Section IX Class D championship game. He left the game with one out remaining on pitch count.

Castellanos led the Tornadoes to a 9-9 overall record and their first Section IX title since 2004 with 119 strikeouts this season in just over 52 innings of work.

One thing that weighs in favor of the Hilltoppers is their experience.

Four members of this year’s championship team — Dawson Nare, Bryce Thibodeau, Jaxson Yacowenia and Brady Fureno — were on the roster when Fort Plain won the Class D state championship in 2016. Plus the remainder of the squad returned from last year’s team that reached the Section II Class D title game before losing to eventual state champion Fort Ann.

“With no seniors on the team I think they just take every day one day at a time, practice hard and take what they have learned the last two years and apply it every day,” assistant coach John Fureno said. “I don’t think they looked for that ultimate goal of playing for the state title but they looked to compete every game and here they are in position to get there.”

Phillips echoed coach Fureno’s comment, saying, “They have been there. They played last year in the finals and play all summer. We can hide a lot of youth because of their experience. These guys are not satisfied.”

Being thrust into the leadership roles normally reserved for senior members on a team, has not bothered Nare, Thibodeau, Yacowenia or Fureno.

“[The experience] helps a lot,” Thibodeau said. “We know there are only four of us [from the last state championship team] but we know it will be important for us to lead them.”

All four agreed that the team has been focused all season with just one purpose in mind.

“We are really a young team but we are all obviously here for the same reason, trying to get back to the states,” Nare said. “We are all working hard and doing what we need to do to get there.”

With the unpredictable weather this spring that often left teams with long gaps between games, having a week off since their last game hasn’t fazed the Hilltoppers.

“We just have to come out swinging,” Yacowenia said. “We can’t back down. We know we need to start strong.”

Fureno was an eighth-grader starting on the state championship team alongside his brother Drew. Getting to the regional finals with a chance at returning to the final four is special.

“It means a great deal to me,” Fureno said. “But it also shows that this team has a lot of heart. We respect our opponents but we do go after them and won’t stand down.”

Although the players have confidence in each other, they also have the trust in an experienced coaching staff to keep them competitive and give them their best shot at winning.

“775 wins. That says a lot right there,” Fureno said referring to Coach Phillips’ state-leading victory total.

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