BRIARCLIFF MANOR – There is something special going on at Valhalla.
The small town has been buzzing since Conor Sullivan hit a pinch-hit, walk-off homer to stymie Briarcliff pitcher Cameron Johnson’s bid for a no-hitter on Wednesday, and the stands were packed on Friday for the rematch.
Briarcliff took a three-run lead into the final inning, but two major Valhalla comebacks in three days would have been too much to ask for, right?
The Vikings rallied to cut the deficit to one run, bringing cleanup hitter Brett Holtz to the plate with two on and two outs. With a mighty swing, the junior provided the backbreaking blast – a booming two-run double off of the right-center-field wall to give Valhalla another unforgettable win, this one by a score of 6-5.
“When you hit a ball like that, you feel nothing,” Holtz said. “I just saw kind of a hanging curveball that stayed up in the zone. I got a good piece and I just saw the ball take off.”
Briarcliff starter Joe Canonaco had limited the Vikings to two runs and two hits through six innings, and he went back out for the seventh with his pitch count at 97. He got the first two outs fairly quickly, but then the right-hander began to labor.
A few batters reached safely before Christian Lovecchio’s RBI single pulled Valhalla to within one run, setting up Holtz for the heroics on Canonaco’s 127th pitch.
“You could kind of see it in his body language, but I have to give him credit,” Holtz said of Canonaco. “He had to be tired, but he fought until the end.”
Valhalla and Briarcliff are considered two of the best teams in Class B. In fact, Briarcliff entered the week ranked No. 1 in the class with Valhalla at No. 2.
The league rivals produced two of the most thrilling games of the year, and it’s the Vikings who have likely earned their status as the favorite.
“It’s such a great feeling,” said senior Jason Wolfthal, who overcame a blister on his foot to pitch a solid six innings. “You want to stay positive the whole game, but there are times when you might get a little down. Seeing stuff like that happen twice in one week really makes you believe.”
Player of the game: Brett Holtz, Valhalla — The power-hitting first baseman was 0 for 3 heading into his final at-bat, but his last swing overshadowed the rest. He nearly put one out to the deepest part of the park, but was willing to settle for the game-winning double.
“I was just trying to stay calm,” Holtz said. “I know I’m a good enough hitter in that situation, and I know I can drive the ball anywhere in the field. I was just trying to get that one pitch.”
Turning point: After Alec Uy scored on Brad Sasso’s RBI groundout to cut Valhalla’s deficit to 5-3, Gavin Astrella hit a ground ball that could have ended the game. But Briarcliff made an error and then Casey Sullivan walked, bringing up Lovecchio and Holtz – the Vikings’ Nos. 3 and 4 hitter.
Stat line: Valhalla (6-1) — Wolfthal allowed five runs (two earned) over six innings, giving up six hits and four walks with seven strikeouts on 116 pitches (68 strikes). James Harnedy got the save. Holtz and Astrella each had two RBI, and Uy scored two runs. Briarcliff (4-2) — Canonaco allowed six runs (three earned) over 6 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and five walks with six strikeouts on 127 pitches (71 strikes). Jonmichael Dolgetta went 2 for 4 with two RBI, Jake Brown went 2 for 4 with a run scored and Luca Lombardi had a two-run double.
Quotable: “We look at this game and we enjoy it now, but we can’t think about this the entire season,” Wolfthal said. “We take one game at a time. This game will mean nothing come Monday when we play Blind Brook.”