Teammates high-five Tyler Ksiazek (Monmouth) has he returns to the dugout in a game on July 16 against Glens Falls (photo credit: Beth Park/Laura Lynn's Photography).
LITTLE FALLS, N.Y. – Like the temperature during the dog days of summer or the franks on the grill in the concession stand at Veteran’s Memorial Park, the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs are hot.
Or should that be spelled “hawt”?
After being swept in a doubleheader to end the 2017 Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) regular season, the DiamondDawgs have swept their way through the playoffs and will represent the East Division in the upcoming PGCBL Championship Series against the Jamestown Jammers.
“It feels great,” Mohawk Valley head coach Blake Nation stated when asked about reaching the championship series. “This was a part of our team’s goals and we are setting out to complete the last piece in this three-game series.”
Mohawk Valley earned the third seed in the East Division with a 29-18 regular-season record, but on the last day of the regular season with the second seed still up for grabs, the DiamondDawgs dropped both ends of a twin bill against Albany on their home field.
“We talked before the doubleheader about the situation at hand and decided to try to win the suspended game even though we were down 7-1 in the sixth inning,” Nation explained.
However, the Dutchmen rolled to an 18-3 victory in the opening game, which was the resumption of a suspended contest from July 26. Because that loss prevented Mohawk Valley from leapfrogging the Dutchmen in the standings, Nation wanted to make sure his team ended the season on a lighter note.
“We all felt that it would be best to just have fun in the second game,” he said. “The team had a blast and I really think that pumped us up for the playoffs.”
Despite a 10-4 defeat in the regular-season finale, the plan appears to have worked accordingly, as the DiamondDawgs went on to edge Albany on the road, 4-3, in the first round of the playoffs. Mohawk Valley then upset the top-seeded Amsterdam Mohawks two-games-to-none in the East Division Championship Series, winning both bouts by identical 4-3 scores.
A matchup against Amsterdam – a perennial powerhouse that has claimed four of the previous six league championships – was inevitable, but it wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Nation and assistant coach Steve Luby. The DiamondDawgs overcame a loss in the first game of the 2015 East Division Championship Series to defeat the Mohawks two-games-to-one en route to winning the PGCBL crown that summer.
“We knew we were going to face a very good team,” said Nation, who was recognized by his peers with the 2016 PGCBL Coach of the Year Award. “We needed to focus on having great at-bats and having a good approach against their excellent pitching. We also needed to continuing to play to our strengths, which are defense and solid starting and relief pitching.”
Speaking of solid pitching, who better to hand the ball to in Game 2 of the division series than the 2016 PGCBL co-Pitcher of the Year? Joe DeSarro (Southern New Hampshire) returned for his second stint with the DiamondDawgs after finishing last season with a 7-1 record, 2.80 ERA and 36 strikeouts. His 2017 campaign was a commendable encore; he went 5-1 with a 3.77 ERA and 45 strikeouts, and was named a mid-season All-Star.
It was only a coincidence that DeSarro’s turn in the starting rotation would place him on the mound in the deciding game against Amsterdam, the defending league champs. The rising Southern New Hampshire University senior is one of a handful of local players on the DiamondDawgs’ roster and grew up less than 20 minutes away in Frankfort, N.Y. In front of a hometown crowd on August 3, the 6-foot-1 righty allowed just one run in 7.0 innings and struck out five. Although he didn’t factor into the decision, DeSarro left the mound with a 2-1 lead, setting the Dawgs up for their extra-inning walk-off win.
“I think any coach would feel confident with the league’s reigning Pitcher of the Year on the mound,” Nation said. “DeSarro is a solid pitcher and competitor, and to have him in a decisive game in the playoffs gives everyone else around him the confidence to win.”
If needed again in the PGCBL Championship Series, DeSarro is scheduled to start Game 3, which would be held in Jamestown, N.Y., at Russell E. Diethrick Jr. Park on Tuesday, August 8.
Nation and the DiamondDawgs will begin their run for a second PGCBL Championship in the past three years on Sunday, August 6, when Mohawk Valley hosts the Jamestown Jammers for Game 1 of the title series. First pitch is at 6:35 p.m.
“[Team owner and general manager Travis Heiser] and myself put in a lot of time and effort to put this talented team together, and [winning the championship] would mean a lot to both of us,” Nation exclaimed. “The championship would also mean a great deal to this team because of the amount of extra reps and hard work they have put into this season.
“These guys are in it to win it.”