Sir Bills top Hudson in Class B semifinals

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Hudson leadoff batter Darian Blanks reached base on an error, stole second and third and scampered home on a first-inning RBI single by Darren Conte. That summed up the offensive production in Tuesday’s Section II Class B semifinal game at Veteran’s Park.

From that point, Johnstown pitcher Joe Nellis and the Sir Bills defense took over. The Sir Bills only allowed one more Blue Hawk base runner as Nellis struck out 14 to help the sixth-seeded Sir Bills defeat No. 7 Hudson 8-1.

With the victory the Sir Bills advance to the Section II Class B championship game at 4 p.m. tonight with an opportunity to win their first baseball sectional title since 1968.

“I never thought we would get there when this season started,” Johnstown catcher Adam Caputo said of the Sir Bills heading to the championship game. “But now that we are there we might as well not stop and just keep it rolling. We can do it.”

Johnstown will battle fourth-seeded Schalmont, which defeated top-seeded Chatham 6-0 behind Greg Musk’s no-hitter.

Tuesday’s victory also was a milestone win for Coach Aaron Mraz as it marked his 100th victory as Johnstown’s varsity baseball coach.

“[This win] is definitely the team’s. It is all about them. They have to enjoy it,” Mraz said. “That is one of the things they were shooting for. It is a great bunch of kids. They work hard every day and battled every game. It is nice to have that milestone but it is all about them. They deserve to have this opportunity.”

Tuesday’s game was originally scheduled to be played last Saturday at Albany’s Bleecker Stadium, but inclement weather and the unavailability of the field forced the game to be moved to Veteran’s Park.

It also allowed Nellis extra rest after pitching in relief of Connor Rodecker in Thursday’s quarterfinal game.

“We were in that rotation with Joey [Nellis], Connor [Rodecker], and Joey [Nellis] anyways,” Mraz said. “It just gave Joey an extra day to rest. He has been sore down the stretch, but that extra day did help him out. He has been sharp and is so tough.”

Hudson appeared to carry momentum forward from their upset victory over second-seeded Saratoga Catholic on the same field Monday into Tuesday’s game.

Blanks hit a sharp grounder to Johnstown shortstop Dan Nellis, who could not gain control of the ball, allowing Blanks to reach base. It did not take Blanks long to be get in scoring position as he stole second and third before Conte delivered a clean one-out single just inside the first-base bag.

Nellis left Conte stranded, striking out the next two batters to get out of the inning.

Johnstown lead-off hitter Richie Lee insured that there would not be a no-hitter from Hudson starting pitcher Ryan Moore as he singled to open the inning.

The Blue Hawks defense stepped up to get the lead runner at second on consecutive fielder’s choices from Dan Nellis and Matt Szurek and a ground out by Joe Nellis.

The Sir Bills took the lead in the bottom of the second.

Adam Caputo worked his way on with a walk to start the inning and stole second. He slid under Hudson catcher T.J. Gardner to tie the game on Jon Heroth’s one-out, RBI single. Heroth took second on the throw to the plate, stole third. Josh Brown drew a walk to put runners on first and third with one out.

Pat Morrison hit a ground ball to Blanks at short who beat Brown to the bag but could not complete the double play as Morrison beat the throw to the bag and Heroth crossed the plate with what would prove to be the game-winning run.

Hudson coach Kevin Bowes questioned the play saying Brown did not attempt to slide and interfered with Blanks making the play. After a discussion by the umpires, the call stood and Johnstown led 2-1.

Johnstown tacked on a couple more runs in the bottom of the fifth when Joe Nellis drove Moore’s first pitch of the inning to deep center field for a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Caputo followed with a walk and stole second. Ryan Auty, who came in as a pinch runner for Nellis, and Caputo scored on Connor Rodecker’s double to the right field fence to build the Sir Bills advantage to 4-1. Heroth and Brown both lifted fly balls to center field that were caught by Joe Rivette. Rodecker attempted to advance to third on Brown’s fly out, but was called out on the play as the umpire said he left second too early after tagging up.

Nellis remained in control on the mound, setting the Blue Hawks down in order from the second inning on and striking out 11 by the time Blanks reached base for the second time on an error, this time charged to Matt Szurek on a misplayed bunt. Blanks immediately stole second but Nellis struck out Dustin ‘Conte and got Darren Conte to hit a comebacker to the mound to get out of the inning.

The Sir Bills’ bats stayed alive in the bottom of the sixth with Morrison and Lee connecting for singles to chase Moore. Dan Nellis worked relief pitcher Derek Delamater for a walk to load the bases and Szurek picked up an RBI as he also walked.

Joe Nellis followed with a bases-clearing double to center field but was thrown out by Rivette on a close play at third, but the Sir Bills had secured an 8-1 lead.

Nellis took the mound in the top of the seventh and struck out two of the three batters he faced to locked up the 14-strikeout, one-hit victory.

“We [Nellis and battery-mate Caputo] have been throwing together for a while and know what to do,” Nellis said. “Over the years he has caught for me so much that he pretty much knows what pitches I want to throw in a situation. We have really gelled.”

Nellis helped his cause at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs. Lee was 2-for-2, while Heroth had two singles, an RBI and a stolen base. Rodecker added a double and two RBIs, while Morrison rounded out the nine-hit attack with his RBI single.

Hudson finished the season with a 16-7 overall record.

Johnstown 8, Hudson 1

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Moore, Delamater (6) and Gardner; Nellis and Caputo.