Whitseboro claims Section III Class A title in nail-biter

By PAUL CIFONELLI

SYRACUSE, N.Y.– The pitching match-up in the Section III Class A title game received a lot of attention from the time Jamesville-Dewitt and Whitesboro clinched their respective spots. Each pitcher lived up to the astronomical hype to provide a pitcher’s duel for the ages.

Avery Cook took the hill for Whitesboro while AJ Ortega toed the slab for J-D. Cook has received a lot of attention for both his play and commitment to St. John’s University. While he stands out on the mound for his imposing figure and high-powered fastball, it is his hitting that stood out to St. John’s the most. Ortega is almost the exact opposite, relying on his devastating breaking ball and change of speeds to have his way with opposing hitters. Despite the differences in styles, both Cook and Ortega dominated on Sunday, June 2.

In the first few innings, Jamesville-Dewitt’s offense put together some baserunners to make Cook’s life difficult. He managed to escape every jam he faced before finally settling in in the fifth inning. Ortega had an opposite game, cruising through most of the first five innings before running into some trouble in the sixth, seventh and eighth. Like Cook, Ortega also wiggled out of every difficult spot to keep the game scoreless through eight innings.

Each pitcher was removed in the ninth inning due to their pitch counts. Ortega allowed two hits in 8.2 innings, while Cook gave up three hits over 8.1 frames. Once the relievers entered the game, the offense was finally able to open up.

Murphy Foss from Jamesville-Dewitt was the first reliever to slip up. In the top of the 10th inning, Cook was walked intentionally to lead off the inning then driven in on an RBI triple by the next batter, Ryan Cardone. The next pitch Foss threw was deposited into right field by Joey Crossley to give Whitesboro a 2-0 lead.

That lead did not last for long as Whitesboro reliever Bryce Gnatek surrendered the lead on a one out, two-run triple by Nolan Giblin. Giblin was cut down trying to score on a ground ball on the next play to keep the game scoreless. Gnatek finished the inning without trouble to give his teammates another chance. Gnatek knew that, despite having the potential winning run on third base, he did not need to try and strike everyone out all of a sudden.

“I was just trying to pitch for contact and I knew that my team, they’ve always got my back,” Gnatek said.

The top of the 11th inning proved to be the decider. With two outs in the inning and runners on first and second base, the Red Rams chose to pitch to Cook this time. Cook delivered with an RBI single to give the Warriors a 3-2 lead. He knew the situation and what his goal was and stayed focused on that despite the rough day at the plate.

“I knew I was going to get mainly off-speed,” Cook said. “So I needed to just needed to sit back in the box and wait for my pitch to come and I got it and I ripped it.”

Gnatek went back out for the bottom half of the 11th and shut the door for Whitesboro. He went through the inning 1-2-3 and the game ended with Cook making a tough catch on a pop up in foul territory. Whitesboro clinched the sectional championship with the victory and exacted a sort of revenge from last season. The Warriors advanced to the Class A sectional final in 2018 also, but lost in a heart-breaker to East Syracuse-Minoa. Senior Joey Panuccio was ecstatic after the win, especially considering the loss in the year prior.

“Oh, it feels good,” Panuccio said. “Especially after last year, coming up short, we got our goal this time and we’re ready for more.”

Whitesboro has a chance to achieve more than just a sectional title on Saturday, June 8 against the winner of the Section II tournament.

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