Ray of sunshine: Haefner, Rayson Miller light up James Cooke in Game 1

Top photo: Lukas Haefner pitching in the fourth inning. Bottom left photo: Lukas Haefner batting in the third inning. Bottom right photo: Lukas Haefner walking back to first base after a foul ball in the third inning. (PHOTOS: JOHN LIKANJE)

 

By JOHN LIKANJE

VICTOR, N.Y. – After two consecutive days of rain, Rayson Miller was itching to play baseball. With the sun shining down on the Victor High School diamond and not a cloud in sight, the players energized each other and walked out of the dugout for Game 1 of the district final.

“We were all just sitting home, wishing to play baseball, so once the time came, we took advantage of it and we were ready to go,” Rayson Miller starting pitcher Lukas Haefner said after the 4-0 victory over James Cooke.

Haefner (Finger Lakes Community College) led the way with a complete game shutout on 96 pitches, allowing five hits, one walk and fanning nine batters. The sophomore right-hander retired eight of the first nine hitters he faced.

“My offspeed, I was able to locate it today,” Haefner explained. “They were having trouble hitting it. Once you throw the offspeed and spot up the fastball, it all just comes together and it was a good day today.”

“I think he makes another team shake their head in that he throws the ball so darn hard,” Rayson Miller head coach Tom Sapienza said about his starting pitcher. “When he can control his offspeed pitches, it makes him a tough package. He was hitting his spots and he probably did a lot of damage with his curveball. They swung through a number of fastballs.”

 

 

Despite allowing three hits in the fourth, Haefner struck out back-to-back batters to strand the bases loaded.

“I didn’t really give up on anything,” the sophomore right-hander said. “They put good swings on balls. They did what they had to, so I just kicked it into next gear and I did what I had to do.”

“He’s a competitor,” Sapienza said. “He’s in charge and I have a great deal of confidence in him. With him on the mound, we’re tough to beat.”

 

 

From there, Haefner retired seven of the next eight hitters he faced en route to the victory.

 

 

At the plate, Haefner went 4-for-4 with four singles, an RBI, a stolen base and a run scored. The sophomore drove in Zach Ochs (Rush-Henrietta High School) as part of a three-run third inning.

“I noticed, since he (James Cooke pitcher Brandon Meeks) was a lefty, at least to me, he was always starting off outside low fastball,” Haefner explained. “Outfield kept playing back and I was just poking it out there and kept finding holes.”

“He swings the bat and he’s aggressive and he believes in himself,” Sapienza said about Haefner’s night at the plate. “He takes the umpire out of the game and he just hacks. If you’re around the dish, he’s going to hit the ball. He’s got great hand-eye coordination. He’s just a great baseball player.”

Maxx Countryman (Finger Lakes Community College) doubled, singled, reached on an error and scored on a suicide squeeze from Hayden Smith (Honeoye Falls-Lima High School) in the sixth. Ochs and Owen VanNewkirk both connected for a base knock, drew a walk and crossed the plate once. Ochs swiped a bag as well. Peyton Parmeter (Corning Community College) singled to left and brought in Haefner in the third.

“Pretty exciting, but I’ve been at it long enough to know that you might as well be a million miles away,” Sapienza said about Rayson Miller being one win away from going back to the state tournament. “You got to win another game. Tomorrow’s a whole different game. We had a great pitcher and some things bounced our way, so tomorrow will be a dogfight. We’re looking forward to it.”

“It’s honestly deja vu,” Haefner said. “As well as we played tonight, we know tomorrow’s another day, but we’re going to do everything in our power in the next game, and if there’s a third, to get back there.”

 

 

Rayson Miller improved their record to 3-0 in the postseason.

For James Cooke, Meeks hurled a complete game on 95 pitches, allowing three walks and striking out three batters.

Bill Brady (Victor High School) singled and drew a walk in three plate appearances. Zachary Carpin (Clarkson University), Owen Delforte, Peyton Schuck (Penn Yan Academy) and Will Tehan (Victor) all collected a base hit in four at-bats apiece. Dave Kelley (Victor) was hit by a pitch.

Both teams will reconvene for Game 2 of this best-of-three series Friday night at 6:00 p.m. at Honeoye Falls-Lima Manor Intermediate School.

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