Two games. Three hours. One championship run the eventual victors will relish.
That’s what awaits four local baseball teams today, as they convene at Pine Plains’ Stissing Mountain Junior-Senior High School to play in the annual Mid-Hudson Athletic League tournament.
“This is one of our goals every season, and it’s the first time we’ve accomplished it,” said head coach Kory VanZandt, referring to his Franklin D. Roosevelt High School Presidents reaching the tournament by virtue of their MHAL Division 1 title. “I’m super-proud of our guys.”
As are the coaches from Highland, Spackenkill and Rhinebeck, all of which will join Roosevelt in the 10 a.m. semifinals, with the title game set for 1 p.m.
Roosevelt (12-6) vs. Highland (11-6)
The Presidents earned a 13-0 win over the Huskies — a game that gave Roosevelt both respect for Highland and confidence in its ability.
“Highland is a good team this year, and (pitcher) Max Cruz is very talented with a lot of ability,” said Van Zandt, whose squad boasts 10 seniors. He added, though, that earlier meeting with Highland “meant nothing,” and “anything can happen” today, when Roosevelt will rely on the attributes that helped it reach the tournament.
The Presidents, their coach said, are batting .330 as a team, and “we’ve done well against pitchers who throw hard,” as their .667 winning percentage — the third-best in the tournament — attests.
“We’ve scored a lot of runs, and we’re hitting well,” Van Zandt said. “We hit fastballs well and adjust to the curveball.”
Much to Roosevelt’s chagrin, though, Highland’s Cruz likely won’t throw in today’s semifinal.
Huskies head coach Jim Delmar said he’d determine the starting pitcher for the first game after Friday’s practice, with Joe Pugliese (5-1) the early favorite to earn the assignment. Regardless of who gets the ball in the semifinals, though, Delmar said he’s confident in all his hurlers.
“Pitching has been strong for us, and we hope that keeps up for us,” said the coach, adding Pugliese “has had a monster year on the mound.”
Delmar said “we have to field the ball,” and his Huskies will look to continue their recent success at the plate.
“Some games, the biggest issue we’ve had has been hitting,” he said, “but we’ve been hitting the ball well lately.”
Spackenkill (17-2) vs. Rhinebeck (12-5)
Just eight days ago, the Spartans and Hawks played and combined for one hit, as Ben Jenkins tossed Spackenkill’s second no-hitter of the season, outlasting his Rhinebeck counterpart, Josh Hanaburgh.
In today’s semifinal, however, Spackenkill head coach Don Neise said Billy Winnis will “probably” toe the rubber, while Rhinebeck will counter with either Kory Hutchins or Hanaburgh.
“We’re confident with either one going into that first game,” said Bill Carney, the Hawks’ head coach. “We’re a team of pitching and defense.”
The Spartans, who are champions of Division 3, learned that last week.
Rhinebeck played error-free ball in that 2-0 loss to Spackenkill. The Spartans loaded the bases in the second inning and scored their first run when the Hawks turned a double play.
“We learned they play strong defense,” Neise said. “We’re going to have to try to manufacture some runs against them (today).”
Rhinebeck, too, took something away from last week’s game against Spackenkill.
The Hawks, Division 4’s top team, are ready to prove themselves in today’s rematch, Carney said.
“Spackenkill is an outstanding team. We thought we played a very good game against Spackenkill, but they one-upped us,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re going to put our best forward.”
Today’s games , Carney said, gives each of the four teams some much-needed competition, filling in the layoff between the end of the regular season and the start of the Section 9 playoffs.
While the prospect of playing a pair of games today en route to the title is daunting, Carney, for one, said it “is a great opportunity” that will help prepare the Hawks for the sectional tournament.
“It’s tough, but it helps us out in sectionals,” he said. “It’s tough for us to win, it’s a good challenge.”