By ANTHONY SCOTT
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Joe DeLuca was mobbed by his teammates. Head coach Joe Antonio received a cold bath as did general manager Mike DiPaulo. The Syracuse Jr. Chiefs are heading back to the New York Collegiate Baseball League Championship Series.
DeLuca plated Sam Little (Ithaca) with a extra-inning walk-off double, and the Jr. Chiefs defeated the Cortland Crush, 4-3 to sweep the NYCBL Eastern Division Championship Series Thursday night at Onondaga Community College.
“The game was on the line, it was pretty stressful,” DeLuca said. “Verst (Cortland pitcher, Nate) was unbelievable, and this time I got a 3-1 curveball and kept my eye on it.”
Little led the bottom of the tenth with a single, and the Fayetteville, N.Y. native took second on an error.
“I saw he bobbled it in the outfield,” Little said. “As soon as he dropped it the second time I took off for second.”
DeLuca delivered the game-winner – a shot over to left center that polished off the two-game sweep and sent the Junior Chiefs to the NYCBL Championship Series.
“I told Joe to go ahead and swing for the right side, and he went opposite field anyway,” Antonio said. “All we were looking for was for him to move along the runner, but he hit the ball so good.”
With the Syracuse Junior Chiefs already up 1-0 in the series and seeking a trip to the championship series with a win, the division leading Cortland Crush had their hands full. Syracuse came out of the gates strong for the third night in a row, and in the bottom of the first jumped out to an early 1-0 lead.
Little used his glove to slow a Crush rally attempt in the second when he robbed Anthony Searles (UMass-Boston) of an RBI single with a sliding catch in right field. Little immediately popped up and gunned down Luke Gilbert (SUNY Brockport) trying to tag from second.
“I just tried to get the ball in as fast as possible,” Little said after his laser of a throw.
Cortland eventually knotted the game at one in the fourth inning after a ball got away from Jr. Chief starter Patrick Merryweather (Col. of Charleston) with a man on third. The Crush’s David Murphy (UMass-Boston) saw the ball scoot away from DeLuca and sprinted home to bring his Crush level in the fourth.
That was the only blemish on Merryweather’s night. The senior finished allowing only just the one run on one hit and five walks while striking out two.
“It was big for me to come out here and set the tone.” The Baldwinsville, New York native said, “I wish I could have been a little more consistent in the zone. The one ball was tough to block and the run scored, but it happens.”
Syracuse quickly regained the lead in the fifth off a Little sacrifice fly. Then the clutch hitting continued in the sixth as Chris Ruiz (St. Thomas Aquinas) lifted a two-out RBI double to left field to give the home team a 3-1 lead.
Deaven Phillips (Ava Maria) hurled three innings out of the pen. The right-hander got into a jam in the eighth with runners on first and second and one out. After he was pulled from the game, Crush cleanup hitter Derek Martin (Southeastern) doubled over the third base bag and made it a one-run game. Gilbert knotted the game with a suicide safety squeeze.
“I knew it was a big situation and the reliever they put in was a very good pitcher.” Martin said, “I tried to keep it simple, put a good at bat together, and it worked out well with a double.”
The Syracuse bats were quieted for three innings due to the outstanding performance from Crush reliever Nathan Verst (Kentucky Wesleyan). Verst allowed one run on three hits over three innings. He struck out two batters on the way.
“Everything was working all the way up until the last inning.” Verst said, “Before I went in, I said I want the ball here I want to be the guy that comes in and shuts the door. For the most part, I did my job until the last inning, but hats off to the Junior Chiefs.”
Cortland threatened in tenth with a runner on second and three and four hitters coming to the plate.
Syracuse closer, Joseph DiTorrice (Manhattan) escaped with a groundout and a fly out to end the inning, and keep the game even at three.
“I try not to think a lot on the mound just trying to execute my pitches,” DiTorrice said. “With a man on, I just tried to be quicker to the plate and just throw strikes.
“Didn’t want to walk DeLuca, because then it would be an automatic bunt to second and third we thought about it, but decided not to,” Cortland manager Bill McConnell said of the game-winning play. “We are the Eastern Division champions, and we fought hard.”
“Hopefully this win carries us into these final games of these NYCBL playoffs,” Antonio added. “I’m so proud of these guys, I told them to enjoy this.”
Syracuse last advanced to the finals in 2012 when the Jr. Chiefs swept the Niagara Power.
Antonio’s Junior Chiefs will meet the Olean Oilers (39-7) in the NYCBL Championship Series. Game one is scheduled for a 7 p.m. first pitch Saturday night at Onondaga Community College.