Sir Bills reach Class BB title game

ALBANY – After losing 14-3 to Schalmont in last year’s Section II Class B championship game, the Johnstown baseball team earned its shot at a rematch Saturday.

The sixth-seeded Sir Bills pounded out 14 hits on its way to a 12-3 win over second-seeded Saratoga Central Catholic at Bleecker Stadium.

“That’s a great hitting team,” Saratoga Catholic coach Phonsey Lambert said of the Sir Bills. “Aaron [Mraz] does a good job with them and I enjoy playing teams like them.”

Much of the damage was done by senior shortstop Matt Szurek, who belted two home runs on his way to a 4-for-5 effort at the plate that included six RBIs and four runs scored.

“This was probably the best game of my life,” Szurek said. “I’ve been in a slump, and I’ve been working hard to get in a groove.”

Seven different Johnstown players had at least one hit. The Sir Bills scored their first five runs with two outs in the first, second and third innings.

“We worked on our two-strike and two-out approaches in practice,” Johnstown coach Aaron Mraz said. “It really showed today. We did a lot of damage on two-strike counts and with two outs. We put the ball in play today.”

Johnstown got started quickly, getting back-to-back two-out singles from Szurek and Jon Heroth in the top of the first.

Connor Rodecker drew a walk to load the bases and Szurek scored the game’s first run on a passed ball to make it 1-0.

Saratoga Catholic got singles from Ryan Czarnecki and Jake Moline in the bottom of the first, but Johnstown starter Richie Lee got out of the jam, getting Kyle Bailey to ground out to end the inning.

In the top of the second, the Sir Bills added three runs on an RBI single by Joe Henderson, a single by Dan Nellis and a two-run home run to left centerfield by Szurek to take a 4-0 lead.

After giving up two hits in the first inning, Lee kept the Saints off the bases in the second and third innings, ringing up five strikeouts.

The Sir Bills added another run to their lead in the third, getting an RBI single from Steve Forker that scored Adam Caputo, who had reached on a single.

Johnstown pushed its advantage to 8-0 in the top of the fourth, getting RBI singles from Szurek and Lee, while Heroth added an RBI sacrifice fly.

Saratoga Catholic scored its first runs in the bottom of the fourth on a three-run home run by Jake VanPatten to make it 8-3.

“We had enough runs that their home run didn’t hurt us,” Mraz said.

Johnstown answered with three runs of its own in the top of the fifth, getting a three-run homer from Szurek to make it 11-3.

Auty replaced Lee on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and put the Saints down in order.

The Sir Bills scored their final run in the top of the sixth. Lee led off the inning with a double before Caputo singled to center. After a walk to Henderson, Auty drew his third walk of the game – this time with the bases loaded – to give Johnstown a 12-3 advantage.

Auty kept the Saints scoreless in their final two at-bats to help the Sir Bills seal the win and a return trip to the title game.

“Saratoga Catholic is young and we’re experienced,” Mraz said. “We didn’t come in with nerves. We’ve got a lot of confidence and it makes a difference. We’ve been playing well all year. We’ve been steady.”

Szurek led Johnstown with four hits, while Nellis, Caputo, Lee and Henderson all finished with two.

Lee earned the win for Johnstown, allowing four hits, striking out seven and walking two in four innings of work. Auty pitched three innings of scoreless relief, keeping the Saints hitless, striking out two and walking one.

“We’re kind of trying to pace out our pitching,” Mraz said. “Richie [Lee] pitched on short rest and I was just looking for four or five innings from him today. He did a good job and then Ryan [Auty] came on and closed the door over the last three innings.”

Saratoga Catholic finished its season with a 16-4 overall record.

“In order to experience a peak, you’ve got to experience a valley,” Lambert said. “You’ve got to learn how to win the big game, and we took a lot of good things away from today. We had a great year.”

Johnstown advances to the Section II Class BB championship game to face top-seeded Schalmont on Wednesday at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy at 7 p.m. Schalmont blanked Albany Academy in Saturday’s other Class BB semifinal contest.

“I want to face Schalmont,” Szurek said. “We’re looking for redemption after last year.”

Johnstown 12, Saratoga Catholic 3

Johnstown131 331 0 – 12 14 1

Saratoga Catholic000 300 0 – 3 4 4

Lee, Auty (5) and Caputo; Schmidt, O’Reilly (4), Clare (7) and Czarnecki.