By PAUL GOTHAM
The journey from last to first is complete.
Cellar dwellers since their first game of the regular season, the Orioles climbed to the top of the Interstate Collegiate Baseball League (ICBL) mountain, Thursday night.
Maxx Countryman (Finger Lakes CC) started and hurled five innings to pick up the win. Troy Leibert (Niagara County CC) continued his post-season domination, and the Orioles used a big fourth inning for a 7-2 win over the Cardinals in the 2020 ICBL Championship game.
“Three and O is all that counts,” Orioles head coach Bobby Papalouizos said referring to the number of wins needed for the title. “They were more bought in than any other team here. I guarantee it. It was awesome. They took advantage and they fought.”
Countryman struck out five and walked two. The right-hander took a shutout into the fifth when he got the first out of the frame before a batter reached on a dropped third strike and another singled after an infield pop up was mishandled in foul territory.
“I was just throwing what I wouldn’t want to hit,” said Countryman who was the New York State Class C Player of the Year in 2018 when he led Avon to the state title. “If I was hitting, I wouldn’t want to hit that.”
The right-hander worked around a one-out double in the first. He allowed a leadoff walk in the second but stranded the runner at second. A two-out single in the third led to nothing further, and he brushed off a walk in the fourth.
“Little things didn’t turn into big things,” he noted. “Our guys behind me came together. They were making plays, making tough plays. Even when it didn’t go right, we bounced back. We didn’t let it compound.”
“He worked the count just like if he was the hitter,” Papalouizos said. “He would go 1-1, 2-2 and then he would always come back with strikes late in the count. He was winning the counts. That was the difference.”
Leibert worked two scoreless innings in relief for the second time this week. The right-hander struck out the side in the sixth and retired the side in order in the seventh to close out the championship. He struck out three over two scoreless in the playoff-opening win over the Monarchs.
The Orioles took advantage of an error to score a pair of runs in the second. They sent 11 to the plate in a five-run fourth that all but put the game away.
“The whole playoffs we’ve had innings where we blow up for four or five runs. I knew it was kinda coming. I knew we had to get it before Chad (Cardinals reliever Chad Gartland) came in. We were just rolling.”
Dylan Boprey (Houghton College) led the decisive inning with a single to right center. Patrick Sherron (Monroe CC) followed with a base hit, and Dan Bowman (Monroe CC) beat out a bunt to load the bases.
Leibert and Jack Scanlon (Washington and Jefferson) worked back-to-back RBI walks before Kenny Murphy (Finger Lakes CC) drove in another with a a base hit. Aidan Wallace (Ithaca College) followed with a two-run single, and the Orioles never looked back.
“I was just looking for a pitch to drive,” Wallace said of his hit. “I took a couple strikes just to get a feel for the situation. I saw a good pitch to hit and tried to take advantage of the opportunity that I was given. I was fortunate enough to rip one down the line. Big inning for us.”
Boprey and Bowman scored two runs apiece in the game. Bowman finished 2-for-4 on the night including a double in the two-run second inning.
Chad Gartland (Niagara County CC) hurled 3.2 scoreless innings of relief for the Cardinals. The right-hander struck out six and walked one without allowing a hit. He came on with bases loaded, five runs in and fanned the first two batters he faced.
Nick Nealon (Niagara County CC) drove in both Cardinals runs with a two-out double in the fifth. Josh Ferris (Finger Lakes CC) reached on the dropped third strike to start the rally. One out later, Frank McCabe (Hilbert) singled, and Nealon followed with his second hit of the night.
Jackson DeJohn (St. Bonaventure University) collected a double for the Cardinals.
The Orioles lost their first four games of the season and started with 1 win and 9 losses. The three-game winning streak in the playoffs matched their season high. The Orioles entered the post-season with eight wins and 14 losses. The Cardinals had won all three regular season meetings between the teams including an 8-2 decision over the past weekend.
The Orioles opened the playoffs with a 4-1 win over the ICBL East Division champion Monarchs in a game that was suspended after one inning of play Monday night and completed on Tuesday. The Orioles then knocked off the second-place Blue Jays to advance to the championship game.