By Sam Reis
In a dramatic ending on Tuesday night at Rao Family Stadium, a late rally from the Utica Blue Sox that forced extra innings was answered in the 10th by the Amsterdam Mohawks as Alex Irizarry drove in Marek Houston on a squeeze play to give the Mohawks a 3-2 win and send them to their fifth straight PGCBL Championship.
The East Division Final saw a couple of NJIT pitchers put on a show as Brandon Peterson and Holden de Jong went head-to-head and both went seven innings.
De Jong’s only slip up occurred in the second inning. Cam Gurney (Utah) led off the frame with a single and that was followed by a Jalen Debose (Florida Atlantic) double. Then, Marek Houston (Wake Forest) hit a sacrifice fly to bring Gurney home and break the deadlock. Zach Eldred (Brockport) notched an infield single to score Debose and make it 2-0 Amsterdam.
After that, neither team could score until the eighth inning. Brandon Peterson only gave up two hits, both to Norris McClure (Spring Hill), in seven scoreless frames while only walking a couple of batters and recording seven strikeouts.
Holden de Jong conceded just five hits, with three of them coming in the second inning when his only two runs were given up. Peterson’s collegiate teammate finished with two walks and five strikeouts in seven innings of work.
Ben Huckans (St. John Fisher) entered in the eighth inning for the Mohawks and that is when the Blue Sox began to make some noise offensively. After Easton Brenner (Lafayette) flew out, Kyus Gargett (Kentucky) reached base on an error as the throw from Marek Houston to first got away from Luke Longo and Gargett managed to get to second. Then, Josh Skowronski (Kentucky) walked before Alejandro Rodriguez (Erskine) reached on a fielder’s choice, allowing Gargett to score and put Utica on the board.
Avery Cook (Georgia Southern) came in to pitch the eighth inning for the Blue Sox and kept it a one run game heading into the ninth.
With one last chance for Utica to keep its season alive, the ninth inning started with a groundout from Ben Partridge (Rockland CC) and a strikeout to Taylor Kaufman (Hamilton). With two outs, an 0-2 count and nobody on base, Norris McClure gave the Blue Sox a glimmer of hope with a single for his third and Utica’s third hit of the game. Will Shannon (Hillsdale) then delivered another single to put two runners on base. Again one strike away from having their season come to an end, Pablo Santos (Rutgers) notched a single to bring home McClure and miraculously tie the game. With the leading run at third, Easton Brenner flew out to send the game to the bottom of the ninth tied at 2-2. Ben Huckans allowed all three of his hits in the ninth and gave up two runs (one earned) with a walk and a strikeout in two innings of work.
Avery Cook took care of business in the home half of the ninth to keep the game tied and send the East Division Final to extra innings.
Ryan Taffe (Fairfield) became the third Amsterdam pitcher of the night in the 10th inning. While Kyus Gargett recorded a leadoff single, he was caught stealing during Josh Skowronski’s plate appearance. Taffe went on to strike out Skowronski and Alejandro Rodriguez flew out to left field to keep the game tied heading into the bottom of the 10th.
Avery Cook remained in the game for Utica in the 10th and he gave up a single to Marek Houston to begin the inning. During Zach Eldred’s plate appearance, Houston successfully stole second. Eldred grounded out, allowing Houston to advance to third. Then, Jared Johnson (Brown) was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners. Alex Irizarry (Maryland) stepped up to the plate and with an 0-1 count, laid down a bunt up the middle and with Houston coming home, Cook made a barehanded throw that got to Alejandro Rodriguez in time but the catcher dropped it and Houston was safe at the plate to give Amsterdam the walk-off win.
The Mohawks had the slight 7-6 edge on hits in a game that the Blue Sox only had two heading into the ninth inning. Despite a quiet night offensively until the later innings for Utica, Norris McClure went 3-for-3 with a walk and a run. Meanwhile, Jalen Debose remained hot in the postseason for Amsterdam with a 2-for-4 night and was the only Mohawks player with multiple hits.
Avery Cook took the loss for Utica, moving to 1-1 on the season. Utica finished the campaign with an overall record of 29-14. The Blue Sox had a slow start to the season but an impressive month of July got them the No. 2 seed in the East. After a walk-off win against Mohawk Valley the previous night, a heartbreaking walk-off loss ends Utica’s season in its first year in the East Division.
Ryan Taffe earned the win for the Mohawks, his first of the summer. Amsterdam went 4-1 against Utica this season and now has an overall record of 38-5-1 after winning both single-elimination playoff games by one run.
The Mohawks now take on the Elmira Pioneers in the PGCBL Championship. The best-of-3 series begins Wednesday with Game 1 at Shuttleworth Park scheduled for 6:35. Game 2 will take place on Thursday in Elmira and Game 3 (if necessary) will be back in Amsterdam on Friday.