By PAUL GOTHAM
WELLSVILLE, N.Y. — Credit Connor Ryan (Mercyhurst) with timing.
The Hornell hurler fashioned a gem of an outing Tuesday evening as the Dodgers defeated the Wellsville Nitros, 3-0 in the New York Collegiate Baseball League Western Division Playoff.
“That’s all we needed was one good pitching performance,” said first-year Hornell coach Jake Kenney. “We’ve struggled. We’ve taken our lumps. Our E.R.A has got to be off the charts, but Connor came in and did a helluva job. It came at the biggest time.”
Ryan scattered four hits over eight innings. The right-hander struck out seven and walked one.
“He was just on today,” Kenney added. “He was throwing more to strike guys out early in the game than pitch to contact. It worked but it got his pitch count up there. We got to about the sixth inning there and I said ‘hey, you’re at about 90 pitches. You better start pitching to contact if you want to finish this game.’
“He adjusted really well and had a couple of quick innings there at the end. We’re short on bullpen arms. We really needed him to give us a quality start. Eight innings of shutout ball, I’d say that’s quality.”
Ryan threw Hornell’s first shutout of the year against a Nitros lineup which led the NYCBL averaging more than eight runs a game. The Buffalo, N.Y. native retired the first eight batters he faced and 11 of 12 to start the game.
“They’re a good hitting team,” Ryan stated. “I didn’t really see any tendencies just tried to pitch backwards to them first time through. Show the off-speed early on and then get them out with the fastball. It seemed to be working out.”
Ryan set down 10 straight from the fifth to the eighth.
“Later in the game I just tried to pound the zone with fastball,” he explained. “They were all off-balance because of the change-up. I mixed in the curveball well. It got them off-balance and that allowed me to attack with the fastball.”
He was at his best in the fifth.
After the Dodgers had a pair of runners erased at the plate in the top half of the inning, the Nitros put the first two aboard in the home half. A sacrifice bunt moved the pair into scoring position. Ryan responded inducing a weak ground out and routine fly ball to end the threat.
“I just tried to take a deep breath and just attacked the hitter pitch by pitch not look ahead but focus on that pitch and get a ground ball,” Ryan commented. “It ended up working out.”
“We’ve had instances throughout the season where we haven’t been able to respond after something like that and we’ve given up a four-spot,” Kenney noted. “For him to come out and shut it right back down and get us right back in the dugout to hit, my hats off to him. He responded very well. Our guys were feeding off him. He’s a very intense pitcher. He brings an intensity every day. Guys responded to that.”
Wellsville looked ready to capitalize again in the eighth when Harry Montero, Jr. (Bloomfield), the league’s RBI man and home run hitter, came to the plate representing the tying run.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Ryan recalled. “I knew he was going to be sitting on that fastball. I wanted to keep him off-balance. I started him off with a curveball, missed a little high. That change-up he was just sitting on it. It didn’t really move too much.”
Montero sent a fly ball to deep center field where Adam Fitzgibbon (Saginaw Valley St.) made the catch at the fence for the final out of the inning.
“He got a little under it,” Ryan noted. “We were all holding our breath, but thankfully we got out of that inning alive.”
“We knew he was going try and put one out,” Kenney said. “He’s very capable, leading the league in home runs…He almost got us. It was by the skin of our teeth, but we’ll take it.”
Montero set league marks this season for RBI (67), total bases (115), extra-base hits (31) and slugging percentage (.757). He finished 0-for-4 on Tuesday, part of effort that saw Wellsville’s middle of the order manage just one hit.
“He had good command of everything really,” said Ryan’s battery mate, Anthony Santoro (Youngstown St.). “That was huge for us. He just commanded everything well. He got ahead of hitters, pitched some guys backwards. They have a real good middle of the lineup. Getting ahead of those guys is huge.”
Dylan May (Wofford) got Hornell on the board with a solo shot in the third inning.
Johnny Ricotta (Monroe CC) made it 2-0 game with a solo shot of his own in the sixth.
“He was working me outside, but I thought one of these times he would come in on me,” Ricotta said. “He threw a fastball middle in, and I just turned on it. It was a good pitch to hit.”
May singled and scored in the eighth. He finished 3-for-5 on the day.
With the win, Hornell advanced to the New York Collegiate Baseball League Western Division Championship Series where they will face the Olean Oilers. Game one is Wednesday at Olean’s Bradner Stadium. A 7 p.m. first pitch is scheduled.