ITHACA — The old sports cliché, “We’ll take ’em one game at a time,” has worked quite well so far for the top-ranked Lansing baseball team. Twenty-four times in a row, to be exact.
“Our kids have done a good job of just playing the next game and not making too much more out of it than that,” Bobcats coach Stu Dean said Friday morning.
His club has set down every one of its opponents in 2012, and that singular approach has put the Bobcats in Saturday’s state Class C semifinal contest. Lansing, the champion of Section 4 and the state’s No. 1-ranked Class C team, will be at Johnson City’s Wildcat Field to face Section 6 champ Frewsburg (20-4), for the right to play in the title game later in the day.
The semifinal is scheduled for 1 p.m., following the first semifinal, at 10 a.m., pitting Section 1 champion Haldane (19-3) against Section 2 champ Voorheesville (19-5). The winners will meet for the title at 4 p.m.
The Bobcats advanced to the semifinals with an 8-2 victory over South Lewis in the quarterfinals on Tuesday in Rome. The Bobcats never trailed, scoring once in the first inning, twice in the third and once more in the fourth for a 4-0 lead.
After the Falcons cut the lead in half in the fourth, Lansing put the game away with four runs in the sixth, the final two coming on a throwing error by relief pitcher Jason Martin on a pickoff attempt at third.
The win might appear comfortable, but the score hardly tells the whole story. Junior shortstop/closer Ellington Hopkins, the Bobcats’ sparkplug with a .452 batting average and 29 stolen bases from the leadoff spot, injured his left hamstring on an odd play in the bottom of the third.
With a man on first, South Lewis’ Dominick Ventura hit a shallow fly ball to right field that Lansing’s Brandon Swearingen couldn’t get to. The runner at first, Hunter Chruscicki, had to hold to make sure the ball wasn’t caught, then sprinted for second when it dropped. Swearingen attempted to throw Chruscicki and when Hopkins stretched to take the throw like a first baseman, he injured his hamstring.
Hopkins stayed in the game, and participated in the four-run rally by beating out an infield single. But he was in obvious pain, and when he reached second on Sean Streb’s single to left, Hopkins was removed for a courtesy runner. He did return to shortstop in the bottom of the inning.
“He’ll play, but I don’t think he’ll be 100 percent,” Dean said. “He’ll be close enough to where he can play. He’s been getting treatments.
“It’s obviously a concern; he makes things happen for us,” Dean said. “And the other part of that is, we need him to be available from a pitching standpoint. He will play, but we’re not sure about how effective he’ll be.”
Catcher Kevin Howell (.322, 16 RBIs) injured his throwing arm during the game, as well, but Dean was confident that Howell would be good to go.
“Kevin’s fine,” Dean said. “He’s received treatment, he’s taking it easy, and we expect him to be ready to play.”
Injuries haven’t been a huge concern for the Bobcats this year — lefty Benji Parkes (7-0, 0.80 earned-run average) missed a couple of starts midway through the season with shoulder soreness — so having two key players nursing injuries comes at exactly the wrong time for the Bobcats.
But the Bobcats aren’t focusing on the things they can’t control, just the next game. And as far as their next opponent, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot to Dean and Co.
“We know we’re going to see a good team at this point in the season, so we’re more concerned with ourselves than our opponent,” he said. “It’s going to come down to what we do, and not what they do.”
Dean says the season can get better still for his Bobcats.
“I told the kids (Thursday), I think our best baseball is in front of us,” he said. “We’ve given ourselves an opportunity to play on Saturday afternoon, and I think our best baseball is still in front of us.”
Frewsburg advanced to the state semis with a 14-4 victory over Lyons in the Far West Regional final Tuesday at Hornell. Shortstop Thad Johnson, who finished that game a home run shy of hitting for the cycle, leads the Bears with a .563 batting average and six home runs. Tage Johnson leads the team in RBIs with 36.
Three of Frewsburg’s four losses came during a spring break trip to South Carolina. The other was a 3-2 non-league loss to Falconer on May 19. The Bears are making their eighth appearance in the state semifinals.