NIAGARA FALLS – To quote NBA Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley, when it comes to championship games, “There is winning … and there is misery.”
Indeed, as sweet as the winning feeling can be, the pain of losing is devastating.
The McQuaid baseball team can attest to both.
Nine days after winning their first Section V championship in five years — in no-hit fashion, no less — the Knights were bounced out of the state tournament on Saturday afternoon when Orchard Park scored a run in the bottom of the seventh to win the Far West Regional 4-3.
“It’s bittersweet because we had a great season, but at the same time we thought we could do more,” said senior designated hitter Gunnar Sterl, whose two-out triple in the sixth inning drove home Greg Cullen with the tying run.
McQuaid (20-4) spotted the Quakers a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first, then scrapped their way back into a tie with a pair of runs in the third and another in the sixth.
“Down 3-0 in the first, I think it shows we were just fighters,” said Cullen, the senior shortstop who is headed to Niagara University to play baseball.
“Right now we’re all hurting, but a week from now, a month from now, we’ll look back and realize how much we accomplished.”
The winning run was scored before there was even an out. Quakers lead off hitter Brandon Nicholson lined a single to left, Austin Bristol reached safely on a bunt and, after a wild pitch moved them to second and third, the Knights intentionally walked Jeff Palczewski to load the bases and set up a force at any base.
The strategy didn’t come into play. Andrew Sipowicz hit a bounded ball through the right side of the infield to drive home Nicholson and send Orchard Park (22-1) to Binghamton for the state final four.
Nicholson was the spark plug for the Quakers — in the first inning and again in the seventh. Henry Buholtz was coming off the 16-strikeout no-hitter against Rush-Henrietta in the Section V Class AA title game but on Saturday Nicholson hit his third pitch of the game into left field for a single.
“I wanted to set the tone and get us going right away,” Nicholson said.
Orchard Park executed his plan, scoring three runs, though an error contributed to two of them.
The Knights closed within 3-2 in the third with a Cullen double, Buholtz RBI single, Sertl walk and Nick Pulli’s hit by pitch and an error. The left the bases loaded, however.
McQuaid loaded the bases again in the fifth with two out but failed to score. They left 11 runners on base against three Orchard Park pitchers.
“If we had two more hits, we might have scored eight runs,” McQuaid coach Jim Purtell said.
Sertl came through with the clutch, two-out triple in the sixth, driving home Cullen, who had singled.
Sipowicz retired the Knights in order in the top of the seventh and then delivered the winning hit in the bottom of the inning.