Fort Plain wins WAC showdown

TROY – As a sophomore, Fort Plain pitcher Marcus Failing was roughed up in a 21-4 loss to Saratoga Central Catholic on May 18, 2011.

With last year’s meeting with the Saints postponed several times and ultimately cancelled, Failing had to wait nearly two years for his shot at redemption.

Failing, now a senior, went the distance Friday in a 5-2 win over Saratoga Catholic at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy after not making it out of the second inning as a sophomore against the Saints.

“When I was a sophomore, we got crushed at their place,” Failing said. “They had like 12 hits against me in less than two innings. I had it in my mind that I wanted to dominate the mound [Friday], and I think I did that.”

Failing fanned 13, walked six and allowed just three hits to earn the complete-game win Friday.

“I knew I just had to work my way out of it,” Failing said. “They’re a good team and I knew I would have to make some pitches. I just wanted to win so bad today.”

In addition to gaining a measure of personal revenge, Failing also helped the Hilltoppers end a four-game losing streak against the Saints, who hadn’t lost to Fort Plain since May 19, 2009.

The win also gave the Hilltoppers a 43-42 advantage in the all-time series with Saratoga Catholic, who entered the game ranked seventh in the latest Class B state rankings. Fort Plain came into the game ranked sixth in Class C.

“Just the atmosphere of being here is great,” Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips said. “I was worried though, that the kids might be more worried about being in Joe Bruno Stadium than winning the game.”

The game was the first in the Friday Night Lights series at Joe Bruno Stadium, and was televised live by the Time Warner Cable Sports channel.

“This is great,” Saratoga Catholic coach Phonsey Lambert said of playing at Joe Bruno Stadium. “This was two great teams playing a big game in a great facility. It’s an honor to be here.”

Both teams represented themselves well as they both came into the game unbeaten in the Western Athletic Conference North Division.

After a scoreless first inning, Zach Sweet smacked a one-out, ground-rule double down the left-field line in the top of the second for the Hilltoppers.

“I came up with the mindset that I wanted to get things going,” said Sweet, who finished the game 2-for-4 and scored two runs.

Following a sacrifice bunt by Failing that moved Sweet to second, Trent Douglas won an eight-pitch battle against Saratoga Catholic starting pitcher Jesse Winters. After falling behind in the count 2-0, Douglas singled to center, allowing Sweet to score the game’s first run. It was the first earned run of the season allowed by Winters.

Saratoga Catholic put two runners on in the bottom of the second, but Failing got out of the jam by striking out Michael Naughton for the final out.

The Saints pulled even in the first when Cameron Coons drew a two-out walk and scored on a triple to deep centerfield by Jesse Winters to tie the game at 1-1. Failing struck out Liam Gibney to end the inning as Winters was stranded at third. The Saints left nine runners on base in the game.

Fort Plain responded in a big way, scoring three times in the top of the fourth on four hits.

Dakota Nemecek, Sweet, Failing and Douglas all had one-out singles in succession with Failing earning an RBI and Douglas plating two runs with his hit.

Fort Plain added to its lead in the fifth and chased Winters, who was replaced by Jacob Moline with one out in the inning after issuing back-to-back walks to load the bases.

Nemecek greeted Moline with a one-out sacrifice fly that scored Tim Wolfe who reached on a dropped third strike to open the inning.

The run gave Fort Plain a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth.

Saratoga Catholic put its first two runs on in the fifth on an error and a walk.

“I would take that situation all the time,” Lambert said. “We just didn’t come up with the big hit.”

However, Failing pitched his way out of the jam, striking out the next three batters in order.

“When guys get on, you can’t worry about the runners,” Failing said.

The situation repeated itself in the sixth as the first two batters reached base for the Saints.

Sean Hart plated one run with an RBI single down the left-field line, but the Hilltoppers caught Jacob VanPatten in a rundown on the play and tagged him out to end the inning.

Fort Plain put two runners on in the top of the seventh, but failed to score, bringing the Saints to the plate in the bottom of the inning.

Failing closed out the win with a walk, flyout, groundout and strikeout.

“He was a bulldog out there,” Lambert said.

Winters took the loss, allowing six hits, striking out two and walking two in 4 innings. Moline allowed no hits, struck out two and walked one in 2 innings.

Winters, Hart and Chris Larson had the only hits for the Saints.

Sweet and Douglas each had two hits for Fort Plain, while Nemecek added a single and a sacrifice.

Failing added a hit and a sacrifice for the Hilltoppers, to go along with his effort on the mound.

“When you have a good pitcher like Marcus, it can hide defensive deficiencies,” said Phillips, whose team made five errors Friday.

Failing improved to 5-0 and pushed his strikeout total to 64 on the season.

“He’s got good stuff,” Lambert said of Failing. “He’s a lefty and that made it difficult on our right-handed hitters. It’s tough. It’s an adjustment.”

The loss was just the second of the season for the Saints.

“[Saratoga Catholic] is a good team,” said Phillips, who notched his 689th career victory. “This is a big win for us.”

The teams are scheduled to meet again May 13 at Phillips Field in Fort Plain at 4:30 p.m.

Saratoga Catholic (10-2 overall, 9-1 WAC) is slated to travel to St. Johnsville on Monday for a 4:30 p.m. contest.

Fort Plain (12-0 overall, 11-0 WAC) will host the Bo Baker Tournament today. The Hilltoppers will face Dolgeville in the opening game at 9 a.m., while Hoosick Falls will face Haldane in the other first-round contest at 11:30 a.m. The consolation game is slated for 2 p.m. with the championship game set for 4:30 p.m.

“Even though we got this win, we still got tough games tomorrow in the tournament,” Failing said. “We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up. We’ve got to be ready for them.”

Fort Plain 5, Saratoga Catholic 2

Fort Plain010 310 0 5 6 5

Saratoga Catholic001 001 0 2 3 4

Failing and Sweet; Winters, Moline (5) and Czarnecki.