After splitting their two regular-season encounters, the Corning and Union-Endicott baseball teams met yet again Saturday, the stakes considerably higher this time around.
This one yielded an outcome very much to the Hawks’ liking.
Ryan Walker went 4-for-5 to lead a 13-hit attack as Corning captured its first Southern Tier Athletic Conference title with a 7-4 victory over U-E at Maine-Endwell’s Gary Crooks Field.
Derek Ayers pitched 32⁄3 innings of impressive relief, and Joseph Foti, Zach Sullivan, Nick Westgate and Jake Eighmey each added two hits for Corning (17-2), which had to withstand a late rally by the Tigers (16-2) to secure the championship.
Trailing 7-2 in the seventh inning, U-E got an infield single by Joey Orlando and a walk by Matt Eastman to put runners on first and second.
Ayers struck out Drew Hogan, but Nick Yesensky followed with an RBI double to score Orlando and make it 7-3. After John Lavo walked to load the bases, Jared McStine singled to center to plate Eastman and cut Corning’s lead to 7-4 before Ayers managed to get Austin Malarkey to fly out to center field to end it.
“This felt great, we’ve been working for this since we were 12,” Ayers said. “Since Little League, it’s been a dream for all of us.”
“I’m sure we (might) see them in the sectional finals, if we do hopefully the result goes our way again.”
Should the two meet in the Section 4 Class AA final in two weeks, Corning will carry into it the memory of an impressive offensive performance against the Tigers on Saturday.
The Hawks went down in order only once against U-E, and scored runs in three of the first four innings to build a sizable early lead.
The biggest of those innings was a three-run fourth inning that gave Corning some breathing room, as Westgate delivered an RBI double — ending the day of U-E starter Hadyn Vose – and Ayers a sacrifice fly in the inning to help the Hawks take a 6-1 lead.
“We talked before the U-E game, to come out aggressive and put some pressure on them real quick,” Corning coach John Knapp said. “We scored (two) runs in the first inning and kept the momentum going.”
U-E had a chance to get back in the game in its half of the fourth inning, loading the bases with one out against Corning starter Chris McKibben.
But after Malarkey drew a bases-loaded walk to score Yesensky that cut Corning’s lead to 6-2, Ayers came on in relief of McKibben. Ayers struck out Anthony Noce before getting Krowiak to a fly out to right to end the threat.
“With this team, we all rely on everyone,” Walker said. “Chris pitched a great game but ran out of gas a little bit and Derek came in and picked him up.”
U-E managed just five hits, three in the final inning, and committed three errors in a performance far from head coach Tim Harkness’s liking.
“We didn’t play very well,” Harkness said. “They took us out of our game. We gave them a few runs in the beginning, and I don’t think our approach at the plate was very good.”
Corning and U-E both won their semifinal contests earlier Saturday in the final at-bat.
In the first semifinal, U-E eked out a 5-4 victory over Chenango Forks after squandering a 4-1 lead. Drew Hogan’s two-out double plated Matt Eastman for the winning run in the seventh inning for the Tigers.
Orlando and Yesensky each went 2-for-3 in U-E’s win. For Forks (9-10), Jake Stone went 1-for-2 with two RBIs.
Corning advanced to the final in even more dramatic fashion, scoring a pair of unearned runs in the seventh inning to stun Seton Catholic Central, 3-2.
Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, the Hawks scored two runs with two outs on back-to-back fielding errors by the Saints.
Saints starter Mike Korchak excelled for Seton CC. In addition to a two-run inside-the-park home run in the first inning that stake Seton CC a 2-0 lead, Korchak held Corning without a hit until Zach Sullivan’s two-out triple in the sixth inning. Sullivan later scored on a bloop single by Westgate for Corning’s first run.
Nate Grant pitched a complete game for Corning, tossing a seven-hitter with seven strikeouts. Korchak tossed a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts.