Hillbillies clinch share of title with Olean

Hillbillies clinch share of title with Olean

Fredonia’s Owen Rush slides safely into home as Dunkirk’s Donnie Jackson makes a diving play on the ball during Tuesday’s CCAA Division 1 game at Al Stuhlmiller Field in Dunkirk.
OBSERVER Photo by Ashleigh Brown

Tuesday evening in Dunkirk, a rivalry showdown between the Fredonia Hillbillies and the Dunkirk Marauders featured all that a regular-season game could offer.

After a 4-0 shutout victory for Dunkirk last Friday, Tuesday’s rivalry rematch featured a share of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 baseball title on the line.

“We knew what we had to play for. We knew what the stakes were,” Fredonia senior Owen Rush said. “We knew it was going to be packed here, but we just had to play our game and keep our heads on the field.”

Tuesday, the ‘Billies got even with their crosstown rivals and earned a share of the league and a home playoff game in doing so.

Behind a seven-run third inning, Fredonia pulled away to taste sweet revenge against the Marauders by ending the league season with a victory in enemy territory, 10-5, at Al Stuhlmiller Field.

“We had a good day,” said Fredonia head coach Tim Cowan, who noted his team did not make any changes in its approach from Friday’s loss despite being shut out at home. “… We just wanted to stay the course with our approach and just believed that would win the day.”

Tuesday’s game was held a day after a rainout, as heavy rainfall Monday morning left Dunkirk’s field unplayable despite clear and sunny conditions at the scheduled time for the first pitch. As a result, both pitchers from Friday’s contest, Ashton Putney and Zach Zentz, were eligible to throw for their respective teams with the league title on the line.

Fredonia (14-4, 9-3) turned to Putney once again, and in the first inning, it looked like the best decision a manager could make. Putney absolutely overpowered the top three hitters in the Dunkirk lineup, setting them down in order on three straight swinging strikeouts. He did the same for the first batter of the second inning, as well.

Dunkirk (10-8, 8-4), however, did not go back to Zentz on the hill after his shutout at Fredonia on Friday. Instead, it was Greg Orcutt who started the game, and Fredonia took advantage. Putney reached base on a leadoff walk, then Rush made it on, as well, due to an error — something Dunkirk did not do even once on Friday. The next batter, Matt Cowan, forced another change of tune from Friday’s game — a Fredonia run — as a single to right field drove in Putney for the game’s first tally in the top of the first inning.

“Right off the bat, we gave up an unearned run in the first inning,” Dunkirk head coach Frank Jagoda said. “They came out and put the ball in play. They hit the ball pretty hard today the whole game.”

From there, however, Orcutt buckled down to get the next three batters to leave two runners stranded in scoring position, with only one run crossing the plate. After a scoreless top of the second inning, Dunkirk came to the plate in the bottom trailing 1-0.

The Marauders got to Putney. Following a strikeout of Orcutt to start the frame, Anthony Piede smoked a single right back up the middle for Dunkirk’s first hit. Piede stole second base and Dylan Bankoski walked, which brought up Donny Jackson with two men on and only one out. Jackson ripped the ball to third base and got it by Rush to score Piede from second base on a play at the plate. Jon Ganey followed with another run-scoring single, right back up the middle, to put Dunkirk ahead 2-1. Then, with two outs, Paul Trippy III hit an RBI single of his own to extend Dunkirk’s lead to 3-1.

But just as the momentum appeared to be in Dunkirk’s favor, Fredonia responded in a thunderous way.

Rush began the third inning with a walk, then Matt Cowan ripped a double down into the right field corner. Colin Crowell was then hit by a pitch to load the bases, and a fielder’s choice with an error on the throw home scored a run to put Fredonia within a run, still without an out.

It was then that the stage was set for one of Fredonia’s two seniors, Nathan Sercu, to stroll to the plate, down a run in his final Dunkirk-Fredonia game. The starting shortstop of the ‘Billies lifted a fly ball to center field, which at the very least would have likely tied the game on a sacrifice fly, but the ball got over the head of Bankoski and allowed the go-ahead run to score from second base. Fredonia took a 4-3 lead, and Orcutt was pulled from the mound.

“It was a big spot, but (I thought) just swing the bat,” Sercu said, noting he did not expect the ball to get over Bankoski’s head.

But the fun was only getting started for the ‘Billies. Following a strikeout from Dunkirk relief pitcher Tom Shaffer, Andrew Cowan added to Fredonia’s lead with a two-run single.

“As we kept going, it felt good. We just kept scoring and it was a good answer to falling behind,” Sercu said.

Fredonia was firmly in control, ahead 6-3, when Rush, the other Fredonia senior, came up for the second time in the inning. Rush made sure to end his Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry storybook in style with a blast to deep center field that crashed off the fence for a two-run double. The towering shot likely would have been a home run in several other parks across the region, as he missed clearing the fence by only a few feet in the deepest part of the ballpark.

“I might’ve taken it a little slow down to first base,” Rush joked, thinking he got all of the blast to center field.

By the time A.J. Kinney slid across home plate, Fredonia held an 8-3 lead. Rush was the third batter of the inning to drive in multiple runs with one swing.

From there, the Hillbillies added one run in the fourth inning and another in the seventh. Dunkirk added two of its own, including a home run by Bankoski to left field. He emphatically stomped on home plate to score the fifth run of the game off Putney, but Fredonia still held a four-run advantage at the time.

“Even with a lead, we certainly played it like no lead was safe,” Tim Cowan said. “… That punch, counterpunch, we thought was going to be enough to win the day for us.”

Dunkirk nearly had another home run an inning earlier, as Josh Lemanski drove a ball down the left field line that hooked just a few feet wide of the foul pole. Jagoda left the dugout to emphatically plead his case for a home run to the umpire, but after a heated exchange, the Dunkirk dugout received a warning and Lemanski dug back in to continue his at-bat after nothing more than a loud strike. After a pair of strikeouts, Piede grounded out to end the inning.

“It’s just a tale of two games. One game you do it all correctly, and the next day, you don’t. That’s part of baseball,” Jagoda said.

Putney finished off the contest on what would have been his final batter regardless of the outcome because he maxed out his pitch count at 126 pitches, just four days after throwing 115 pitches in Friday’s loss. He got Anthony Piede to fly out to end the game, which Tim Cowan called a “nice punctuation” because of the solid at-bats Piede had against the Hillbillies in both games.

“Ashton absolutely left everything he had out on the field. You could see it,” Tim Cowan said. “Although he was tired, his velocity was still strong and his control was still effective.”

After allowing four runs in a loss Friday, Putney allowed five runs on Tuesday, but his team’s offensive explosion in the third inning was more than enough support to earn him the win. Putney struck out 14 batters Tuesday, while allowing eight hits and three walks. In two games against Dunkirk within four days, Putney managed 24 strikeouts in 14 innings. Dunkirk was the only team to defeat Putney in league play this season.

The victory on Tuesday was not just a win to earn a share of a league title for Fredonia; it was also a rivalry win for revenge on Dunkirk’s Senior Night. Fredonia’s two seniors — Sercu and Rush — ended their rivalry careers on a high note after losing their final Dunkirk-Fredonia game at home last Friday.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air for me, honestly,” Rush said.

Sercu added, “It’s a great feeling to win the last one, away, on their field.”

Dunkirk now looks to rebound from a second straight season of finishing second in the league with a deep run in the playoffs. The Marauders lost to eventual state champion Depew in the playoffs last season.

“Hopefully we make a good run in the playoffs. I think these guys are hungry. They want to continue to play ball and put their best foot forward,” Jagoda said.

The Hillbillies close out the regular season today with a nonleague game against Springville-West Valley at 5 p.m., but more importantly, Fredonia also now locks up a home playoff game on Friday. The league champion Fredonia Hillbillies will likely be the No. 2 seed and host Cleveland Hill. Putney will be unavailable to pitch, but Rush will be good to go as long as he does not exceed a pitch count limit in tonight’s nonleague game.

“I’m really proud of my guys. We’ve battled. We fell just short the last couple years, but they didn’t put their heads down, even Friday in a loss,” Tim Cowan said. “… I couldn’t be prouder of our guys with the support from our baseball community. I told the boys that this date will be on the banner in the gym forever. Now we look ahead to the rest of the season.”

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