With five losses in their previous seven games, the Horseheads baseball team didn’t exactly have momentum on its side heading into Saturday’s Southern Tier Athletic Conference playoffs.
So much for momentum.
The Red Raiders cruised to their first STAC title since 2010, rolling to a 10-1 victory over Vestal in the title game at NYSEG Stadium.
Kevin Boulas tossed a four-hitter and Brett Wieland went 3-for-3 with five RBIs to lead a 14-hit attack for Horseheads (13-7), which earlier Saturday had pounded 14 hits in a 13-7 semifinal victory over Seton Catholic Central.
“I knew this was the type of team that was built on pitching and defense,” said Horseheads coach Jeff Limoncelli, who has guided his team to six STAC titles since 2000. “We really haven’t swung the bats well and we had a couple of injuries.
“It was one of those things where it was a pleasant surprise. I expected to compete but didn’t expect this.”
Horseheads scored in five of its six innings it batted against Vestal.
That included a pair of runs in the first inning. Matthew Rohde reached on an error to lead off the inning and Dylan Manwaring was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second.
Wieland then laced a double to deep left center field, scoring both Rohde and Manwaring to give Horseheads a 2-0 lead.
Horseheads added two more runs each in the third and fourth innings.
Jacob Dimon and Jacob Stermer drove in runs in the third. In the fourth inning, Wieland ripped a two-out double to left to score Rohde and Manwaring to increase Horseheads’ lead to 6-0.
“He’s had a heck of a year for us,” Limoncelli said of Wieland. “In the first game, I thought he was a little jumpy. I told him to relax.
“When he gets his pitch he’s just a strong kid. He’s been great all year.”
Horseheads added three more runs off Vestal starting pitcher Mike Osinski in the fifth inning, the last of those coming when Wieland was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Osinski had entered Saturday’s contest with a 4-0 record and 1.62 ERA.
“They were hot, you have to give them all the credit,” Vestal coach Tank Anderson said. “They caught us in one of our lower moments, but in the same sense, they caused that. They’re a good club.”
While Horseheads’ bats were sizzling Saturday, Boulas was masterful in shutting down a good-hitting Vestal squad.
The Golden Bears (15-2) mustered threats in the third and fourth innings, only to come up empty.
In the third inning, Vestal put runners on first and second with one out but had the threat halted when Nick Wegmann flied out to center and baserunner Ryan Franz — who had tagged up and advanced to third on the play — was called out after the umpires ruled he had left second base too early.
Vestal loaded the bases with two out in the fourth before Andrew Gleason grounded out to Boulas to end the inning.
“I was just hitting my spots, my curveball was looking good, and I just had them put the ball in play and trust my defense,” Boulas said.
In Horseheads’ semifinal victory, Manwaring went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and also pitched five innings of three-run ball to earn the victory. Connor Ligeikis was 3-for-3 with three runs scored for the Saints (13-4).
Vestal reached the title game with a 6-3 semifinal victory over Chenango Valley.
Wegmann tossed a three-hitter and Troy Wilson went 3-for-4 with four RBI for Vestal, including a two-run single in a three-run sixth inning that broke a 3-all tie. Jake Spellane added two hits and three runs scored for Vestal.
Chris Ruffo had three hits and two runs scored for CV (13-5) in the loss.