Johnstown turns back Cohoes, 11-9

JOHNSTOWN -With the threat of thunderstorms looming in the forecast, the Johnstown Sir Bills played with a sense of urgency in the opening round of the Section II Class B postseason baseball tournament.

The sixth-seeded Sir Bills hammered out 17 hits en route to defeating No. 11 Cohoes 11-9 Tuesday afternoon at Johnstown High School.

With the opening-round victory, Johnstown (14-7 overall) advances to play No. 3 Corinth (14-5 overall) in a Class B quarterfinal game at 4 p.m. Thursday at Corinth High School.

“This has been a long time coming,” Johnstown coach Aaron Mraz said of his team’s win. “The last couple of years we have gone into the first round and our offense went sour or we made bad defensive plays that hurt us. It was good to see these guys get the job done today.”

Johnstown starter Joe Nellis held the Tigers hitless through the first three innings, striking out five of the first nine batters he faced.

His teammates backed up his mound performance by putting five runs on the board.

The first came in the bottom of the second inning when Jon Heroth delivered a one-out single and Josh Brown executed a hit-and-run to put runners on the corners. Mike Everest delivered Heroth to the plate with a single to left to put Johnstown up 1-0.

The Sir Bills tacked on four more runs in the bottom of the third.

Dan Nellis drove the first pitch from Cohoes starter Trey Brammer down the left field line for a double and beat the throw to third on Matt Szurek’s fielder’s choice to put runners on first and third with no outs.

Szurek drew the attention of the Tigers’ infielders when he broke from first and was caught in a rundown. He tied up the play long enough to allow Nellis to race down the third base line and slide safely into home. Szurek stole the base and went to third as the ball got away from Cohoes catcher Tyler Becker.

Szurek scored on Connor Rodecker’s double to left to up the score to 3-0. Heroth followed with a single and stole second before Brown delivered a two RBI single to plate Rodecker and Heroth to build the Sir Bills lead to 5-0.

Cohoes got a run back in the top of the fourth when Becker led off with a triple and scored on Sean Connors’ single to cut the lead to 5-1.

Although still effective, Joe Nellis labored in the inning, forcing Mraz to pull the senior left-hander at the end of the inning.

“He said about three or four pitches in he felt a little tightness [in his shoulder] and as the game went on it didn’t loosen up for him,” Mraz said. “As the game went on he started to change his arm angle and his delivery angle and it started showing. He had to let off and it just wasn’t worth continuing with him.”

With storm clouds rolling in, the Johnstown bats came alive in the bottom of the fourth as the first five batters delivered hits.

Richie Lee led off the inning with a double and was pinch-run for by Joe Henderson. Dan Nellis followed with a single and Szurek picked up an RBI with a single, Dan Nellis scored on Joe Nellis’ double and Szurek crossed the plate on Adam Caputo’s RBI single.

Bishop Kilmer came on in relief of Brammer and allowed Joe Nellis to score on a wild pitch to build Johnstown’s lead to 9-1.

Lee came on in relief and Nellis moved to first base in the top of the fifth.

“We just kept producing runs,” Mraz said. “Richie came in and struggled a little after coming in cold. He had trouble finding the plate and got behind the batters and they started hitting him. but we did what we had to do to win.”

Lee set the first two batters down before Brian Smith doubled to left. Becker worked his way on with a walk and Smith scored when Max Carey reached on an error. Connors delivered Becker and Carey to the plate to close the gap to 9-4.

Johnstown put two more runs on the board in the bottom of the sixth.

Szurek led off with a walk and Caputo doubled to put runners on second and third with one out.

Rodecker lifted a deep sacrifice fly to score Szurek and Heroth singled to score Caputo and build Johnstown’s lead to 11-4.

The Sir Bills needed those runs as the Tigers rallied for five seventh-inning runs.

The first four Cohoes batters, Kilmer, Smith, Becker and Carey, reached base wither with a hit or walk before Kevin Napier delivered a one-out, bases-loaded triple to cut the Sir Bills’ lead to 11-8. Napier scored after tagging up on a foul out by Jack Fitzgerald before Rodecker got the final out of the game on a comebacker to the mound.

“I told them that these teams are not in sectionals because they are bad,” Mraz said. “Every team you face [in sectionals] is going to be able to hit the ball and get the job done. We just have to go out there and hit like we can, and defensively we have to stay strong and not give up outs. You give up outs in sectionals, and that is where they are going to pile up runs.”

Dan Nellis finished with a double and two singles for Johnstown, while Joe Nellis and Adam Caputo both doubled and singled, and Rodecker had a double and three RBIs.

“Everybody was way out in front and were reaching [first time through the line up],” Mraz said. “I told Coach Rodecker that I knew the bottom of our order would be effective in this game because it plays right into them. When they started hitting the ball and we talked to the top of our lineup to just trust in that and they started stinging the ball as well. It was great offensive production today. I just hope we can keep it going.”

Johnstown will now focus its attention on Adirondack League contender Corinth.

“Corinth is a scrappy team that is going to try you defensively,” Mraz said. “We will have to try to make sure we take care of business. They like to try all the tricks of the trade, and we will have to make sure that we get the outs when we are supposed to get the outs. Connor [Rodecker] will be on the mound. We gave him a little bullpen work to end the game, which is good since he only threw a few pitches. He has been sharp for us all year, and we have confidence in him.”

Johnstown 11, Cohoes 9

Cohoes000 130 5 – 9 8 0

Johnstown014 402 x – 11 17 1

Brammer, Kilmer (4) and Becker; J. Nellis, Lee (5), Rodecker (7) and Caputo.