ENDWELL – Union-Endicott needed to win its final regular-season game just to qualify for Section 4 postseason play. Now, the Tigers are headed to the state playoffs.
Freshman pitcher Shane Hammond tossed five innings of two-hit ball and U-E mustered just enough offense in the early going for a 4-1 victory over top-seeded Vestal in the Section 4 Class A title game Friday at Maine-Endwell’s Gary Crooks Field.
After losing seven of its first eight games and needing a 9-2 victory over Elmira in its regular-season finale to reach the Section 4 Class A playoffs, U-E (9-9) will meet the Section 9 champion in a first-round state playoff game 4:30 p.m. next Friday at M-E.
“It’s crazy, we started off the year 1-7 and no one really thought we’d be the team to do it,” U-E first baseman Matt Bowman said. “Everyone thought M-E because they had won it the last seven years, and Vestal was the No. 1 seed. We came in as the third seed and proved something (Friday).”
U-E scored single runs in the second and third innings and added two more runs in the fourth inning. That was plenty of support for Hammond, who was remarkably calm considering the stakes.
Hammond escaped a second-inning jam, allowed one run in the third inning via a sacrifice fly by Matt Benko that plated Justin Perez, before settling down with a couple of sharp innings in the fourth and fifth.
Incredibly, Hammond pitched his final two innings after breaking a finger his non-pitching hand in the third inning on a liner off the bat of Vestal’s Mike Kosty.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I had one inning that was kind of bad because I was rushing myself. … I was getting frustrated,” Hammond said. “But after that incident with my finger, I actually pitched very well, which was kind of weird.
“I had one bad inning, got through it and that’s all that mattered.”
Joe Newfrock relieved Hammond, pitching two shutout innings to earn the save. He struck out Perez with a runner on first to end the game.
U-E coach Tim Harkness was especially impressed with Hammond’s outing.
“You’re talking a gutty performance,” Harkness said. “I was a little nervous running a freshman out there, but we had some arm troubles with some guys, so he was our best option. Obviously he proved that (Friday).”
U-E took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Bowman and Hammond hit back-to-back to singles to lead off the inning, Bowman later scoring on a fielding error on a ball hit by Austin Malarkey.
In the third inning, Jon Hoyt led off with a single and one out later, Thomas Pasquale ripped an RBI single to score Hoyt to put U-E ahead, 2-0.
After Vestal drew within 2-1 with its run in the third, U-E scored two runs in the fourth to knock out Vestal starting pitcher Kosty.
Malarkey walked and Noah Burchell singled down the third-base line to open the inning, the runners moving to second and third on a throw to third from the outfield following Burchell’s hit. Anthony Tiberi and Wyatt VanVestrout followed with RBI groundouts to make it 4-1.
Joe Iacovelli relieved Kosty later in the inning after a two-out walk to Hoyt, and he shut down U-E the rest of the way.
However, Vestal was unable to muster anything offensively.
“We’re up and down (hitting the ball), but give credit to their two pitchers, they did a very nice job,” Vestal coach Tank Anderson said. “We hit a few balls on the screws but they were right at people. You have to hand it to U-E, they got hot at the right time of the year.”