Hilltoppers rally past Schoharie

FORT PLAIN – It was a pressure situation that baseball players have run through their minds repeatedly from T-ball to the major leagues – it’s the bottom of the ninth game tied two outs three balls, two strikes winning run in scoring position.

Kiernan Briggs lived that scenario Monday afternoon in the Fort Plain Hilltoppers’ Western Athletic Conference game against Schoharie.

With the game tied with two outs and Cody Logan just 90 feet away representing the winning run, Briggs worked the count full before stroking a hard hit single to the right-center field gap to score Logan and give the Hilltoppers a thrilling 6-5 victory over the Indians.

The win not only kept the Hilltoppers’ record unblemished so far this season, it marked veteran coach Craig Phillips’ 700th career coaching victory.

“That is the thing you live for growing up playing baseball,” Briggs said. “When you get in the box it is just surreal You never think it is going to happen, but today it happened.”

The teams swapped runs early in the game before Schoharie carried a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning.

The Hilltoppers’ Drew Fureno led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, stole second and advanced to third on Jesse Heroth’s ground out.

Indian’s pitcher Devon Brooks struck out Eric Orologio and Alex Bleichner. However, a dropped third strike kept the Hilltoppers’ alive as Bleichner scrambled to first and Fureno raced home with the tying run.

Brooks struck out James May to get out of the inning with the game tied 3-3.

Neither team could break the tie in the seventh, sending the game to extra innings.

Schoharie threatened in the top of the eighth but the Hilltoppers came up with the big play, catching Connor Brown in a run down between third and home for the final out.

Briggs opened the bottom of the eighth with a walk and stole second and third but was left stranded as the Indians kept the ball on the infield to get out of the jam.

Schoharie benefitted from a pair of walks and three hit batters in the top of the ninth to push a pair of runs across the plate without the benefit of a hit and take a 5-3 lead.

Bleichner opened the bottom of the ninth with a single advanced to second on a passed ball and stole third. May worked his way on with a walk and stole second, while pinch hitter Andrew Hanifin drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.

“I kept Devon in there to try to finish it,” Schoharie coach Lenny Coons said. “He has a lot of heart. My other pitchers are both eighth graders and it wouldn’t be fair to them to put them in that situation.”

Logan picked up an RBI with his grounder that the Indians played to second to get Hanifin for the first out, but scored Bleichner and moved May to third.

May broke from third and scored the tying run as Aiden VanLoan pushed a sacrifice bunt down the first base line setting up Briggs for the dramatic finish.

“There is something about Fort Plain kids, they don’t quit,” Phillips said. “They might not have as much talent as other teams have but they find a way to win. I said I was going to give all these kids that haven’t played all year a chance. I put the young Hanifin kid in, he draws a walk. Logan hits into a fielder’s choice. Aiden VanLoan, I was going to pinch hit for him, he lays down a good bunt.”

The Hilltoppers (4-0 overall, 3-0 WAC) return to Collins Park in Scotia today to resume play of their game against Mekeel Christian Academy that was called due to rain with Fort Plain leading 13-0 in the third inning.

Fort Plain 6, Schoharie 5 (9 innings)

Schoharie012 000 002 – 5 6 2

Fort Plain011 001 003 – 6 3 2

C. Brown, D. Brooks (6) and Barton; Orologio, Bleichner (7), Orologio (8), Bleichner (9) and Fureno.