Hilltoppers advance to title game

AMSTERDAM – After wet weather forced the Fort Plain baseball team to wait a few extra days to play its Class C semifinal game, the Hilltoppers wasted little time advancing to Thursday’s championship game.

The top-seeded Hilltoppers edged fifth-seeded Hoosic Valley 2-1 at Shuttleworth Park in a well-played contest that took just 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete.

“Hoosic Valley is a very good baseball team,” Fort Plain coach Craig Phillips said. “We’re very lucky to be moving on.”

With the win, Fort Plain (19-2 overall) will face No. 10 seed Voorheesville in the Class C championship game Thursday at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy at 7 p.m. Voorheesville (16-7 overall) defeated No. 14 seed Mechanicville, 4-3, in Tuesday’s other semifinal contest at Shuttleworth Park.

The Hilltoppers will be bidding for their seventh Section II title since 2004.

“We’re going home,” Fort Plain senior pitcher Marcus Failing said of his team’s return to Joe Bruno Stadium. “We’ve got nine sectional titles and we’re ready to make it 10.”

Failing, Fort Plain’s lefthanded ace, played a key role in the Hilltoppers’ win, pitching a complete-game four-hitter. Failing walked none and struck out eight for Fort Plain, improving to 9-0 on the season

“I thought I pitched well,” Failing said. “I wanted to pitch this game because I knew how good Hoosic Valley was. The team really played well behind me, and I thought I did my job on the mound.”

Failing was perfect through four innings before Hoosic Valley mustered a pair of hits in both the fifth and seventh innings.

“[Failing] pitched a great game. He kept us off-balance,” Hoosic Valley coach George Brooks said. “I figured that once we’d gotten through the lineup having seen him one time, we’d start hitting him a little bit, and we did, just not well enough. Even the balls we did hit a little bit, we hit right at them.”

While Fort Plain was able to go with its top pitcher Tuesday, Hoosic Valley used its top pitcher, John Rooney, on Sunday in its 4-2 nine-inning quarterfinal win over No. 4 seed Greenwich. The Indians sent J.T. Sawyer to the mound against Fort Plain. Sawyer allowed eight hits in five innings, striking out one and walking none. Rooney struck out two of the three batters he faced in the sixth inning for Hoosic Valley.

“Hoosic Valley’s a good team, and we didn’t face their number one [pitcher],” Phillips said. “Their number one came in and pitched the sixth inning. Unfortunately, because of the rain, he had to pitch the other day, and we got to throw our number one.”

Fort Plain threatened in both the first and second innings, putting two runners on in the first when Joey Ray reached on an error and Dakota Nemecek sent a two-out single to center field. Sawyer escaped the jam, getting Failing to groundout to end the inning.

In the second, Jesse Heroth and Trenton Douglas hit back-to-back-singles for Fort Plain to open the inning.

After a sacrifice bunt by Tim Wolfe, the Hilltoppers had runners on second and third with just one out. As he did in the first, Sawyer wriggled out of danger, getting a popout from Drew Fureno and a groundout from Zach Sweet to end the threat.

After both sides went down in order in the third, Fort Plain finally broke through for the game’s first run in the fourth.

Failing opened the inning with a single and scored on a squeeze bunt by Douglas to make it 1-0.

Hoosic Valley answered in the top of the fifth, getting singles from Frank Acker and Sean McLaughlin for its first hits of the game. Acker reached second on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Akin and scored when McLaughlin’s single bounced off the glove of Kiernan Briggs in left field, tying the game at 1-1.

Fort Plain quickly regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth when Joey Ray scored after smacking a one-out double to left field. After an infield single by Chris Hanifin, Ray scored on a double by Nemecek that bounced off the bottom of the fence in left centerfield to make it 2-1.

With two outs in the sixth, Rooney sent a fly ball to deep centerfield that looked like it might have a chance to tie the game. Instead, Nemecek calmly settled under the ball and made the inning-ending catch.

In their final at-bat, the Indians got a pair of one-out singles from Mac Anderson and Acker before Failing sealed the win with a strikeout and getting a grounder from McLaughlin that saw Acker forced out at second for the game’s final out.

Next up for Fort Plain will be a matchup with Voorheesville, the defending Section II Class C champions. The Blackbirds have knocked off seventh-seeded Schoharie (16-3) and 14th-seeded Stillwater (4-3) on its way to the title game.

“Not matter who we play, it will be a good team,” Failing said. “You’ve got to respect whoever you play because anyone can beat anyone on any given day.”

Chris Hanifin is expected to get the start for Fort Plain in Thursday’s Class C title game. Hanifin is 7-1 on the season for the Hilltoppers.

“It’s going to come down to Chris Hanifin pitching for us in the big game,” said Phillips, who picked up his 696th career victory.

Hoosic Valley finished its season at 20-3 overall.

“We had a great season,” Brooks said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Fort Plain 2, Hoosic Valley 1

Hoosic Valley000 010 0 – 1 4 1

Fort Plain000 110 x – 2 8 1

Sawyer, Rooney (6) and Anderson; Failing and Sweet.