CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – With the 2015 Perfect Game Collegiate League (PGCBL) Championship Series beginning last Wednesday night, new faces emerged to do battle in the fifth annual title series. Both No. 2 seeds in their respected divisions, few people expected the Victor RailRiders and Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs to battle for the 2015 PGCBL crown.
Ending the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the PGCBL, Mohawk Valley didn’t cool off during their 2015 playoff run. Stunning the three-time defending champions Amsterdam in the semifinals, the DiamondDawgs scratched and clawed their way to the PGCBL championship series after trailing Amsterdam 1-0. Coming from behind to win back-to-back games, Mohawk Valley answered the bell that many others have failed to do in past seasons.
“We knew the championship ran through Amsterdam,” Mohawk Valley two-way contributor Anthony Herrera said. “Our team played with pride even after the game one loss and left everything out on the field and that’s what got us over the hump.”
One week later, game one of the PGCBL Championship series began in Victor with all eyes on the DiamondDawgs and RailRiders. Mohawk Valley wasted no time scoring in the first inning off a Chris Rave RBI single, and an error and a passed ball proved to be enough for the DiamondDawgs pitching staff to pick up a game one victory.
Pitching six innings and allowing only three hits, Payton Coddou kept the RailRiders in check on the mound. Picking up another postseason win, his performance left the DiamondDawgs one game shy of their goal and Victor reeling to find answers offensively.
“Our pitching has been dominate throughout the year,” Herrera said. “Without our staff and their depth we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Returning home for game two of the series, the DiamondDawgs played a crucial clinching game in their own backyard and the home of the 2015 All-Star festivities in Little Falls, N.Y. Facing an early 4-1 deficit, Mohawk Valley once again started to claw their way back in the fourth inning when Ryan Stekl hit a leadoff triple. Stekl later scored on an RBI groundout in the inning and cut into the RailRiders lead.
With the lead now at 4-2 in the eighth, Sam Machonis lead off the inning with a single and eventually came around to score on an RBI single by Andrew Turner cutting the lead to one. Later in the inning, the DiamondDawgs took over, tacking on five more runs on two RBI singles by Herrera and Matt Pagano and a sacrifice bunt by Chris Rave.
Taking a four-run lead into the ninth, Mohawk Valley’s pitching staff closed the door on the RailRiders once again, and the celebration began in Little Falls.
“I haven’t gotten much sleep,” General Manager Travis Heiser stated. “It’s a surreal feeling and something I’ll always look back on.”
The DiamondDawgs really started to cement themselves as a championship caliber team in early July. Colin Hawk, the DiamondDawgs shortstop, knew his team could compete for a championship, but as he states, it didn’t always look that way.
“We had a rough start, but as the season moved along we all grew as leaders on and off the field and gained a lot of confidence. By the end of July, we knew the winning mentality we had garnered and the hard work we had put in could take us to the next level.”
A blue collar team, Mohawk Valley’s 2015 roster was full of grind-it-out baseball players. With a few Division I athletes on the roster, the DiamondDawgs had a chip on their shoulder and wanted to prove they belonged in the upper echelon of the PGCBL. Hawk believes much of this credit goes to the bond that the team shared and the leadership shown by Head Coach Blake Nation and his staff.
“We trusted each other and stepped up in the biggest of moments,” Hawk added. “Coach Nation did a great job of installing a winning mentality within us and we ran with it.”
With the team rattling off 23 wins in the month of July alone, they soon began playing their best baseball to date. Little did they know that as August hit New York they would battle their way towards a PGCBL Crown and become the champions of the league.
“We were a family that had tons of support,” Heiser said. “With the town of Little Falls behind us, we came together and made this season one I will never forget.”