The doomsday scenario.
It’s the situation where all of a baseball team’s hard work for the season comes undone because of one bad break, one bad pitch or worse because they run into a pitcher who’s basically unhittable.
It’s something every baseball team fears heading into the postseason, even Orchard Park – the top-ranked team in the state.
The Quakers have good reason for at least respecting it as they experienced the scenario in last year’s Section VI final. That’s when they lost to a Lancaster team they swept during the regular season en route to earning the top seed in Class AA. A couple of uncharacteristic mistakes and some bad luck on offense led to a 4-3 loss.
It’s something the unbeaten Quakers will try to avoid this year, as they attempt to end an eight-year drought in which they did not win the Section VI title. OP will be the top seed in its bracket once the Section VI seeds are unveiled on Wednesday.
The postseason begins for some teams Thursday, with Friday expected to be a busier day.
The Quakers likely won’t have to play until Tuesday’s quarterfinals, where they unquestionably will face their opponent’s No. 1 pitcher.
“We were in this position last year and we didn’t get it done,” OP coach Jim Gibson said. “We know we have to be ready if we want to get to where we want to end up being.
“Baseball is the one sport where you have to be ready for anything. … And you hope everything falls your way.”
Everything has fallen OP’s way during the regular season as it completed its ECIC I run with a perfect record. The Quakers are 18-0 heading into their regular-season finale Wednesday against Hamburg. They have been ranked No. 1 in the state the last two weeks with the updated poll expected to be released Thursday.
OP appears to be even better than last year’s outfit, which included All-Western New York pick and Detroit Tigers draftee Dave “Bubba” Hollins and Ryan MacCarrick, another All-WNY selection. The Quakers’ closest games this season have been a 2-1 win over St. Francis and a 3-1 victory over Lancaster. The rest of the wins have been by comfortable margins.
“We’ve just been a team that’s good at everything on the field,” Gibson said. “We play good defense. We hit well and we have solid pitching.”
Gibson may sound a bit modest when discussing the pitching. The Quakers’ mound artists have all done their best Rembrandt impressions, while Gibson has kept the staff fresh by limiting innings.
Junior Jacob Lewis is 4-0 with a 1.30 earned run average and has walked just one batter in 26 innings.
“He’s just got phenomenal control,” Gibson said.
Lefty Ben Wereski, who started last year’s sectional final, has a 0.60 ERA and 3-0 mark. He’s yielded just two earned runs in 22 innings, which includes a start against Monsignor Martin power Canisius. Senior Andrew Sipowicz is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Classmate Jeff Biddle is also 3-0 with a 1.4 ERA. Brandon Weber pitched a two-hit shutout in his first start last week.
“Every time we go out there we have enough rest so we feel 100 percent,” said Sipowicz, who also plays first base and leads the team in batting (.528) and RBIs (20) even though he’s recruited as a pitcher by Canisius College.
The Quakers also seem to have a collective maturity about them. Sipowicz said the players police themselves to make sure bad habits don’t creep into their game. “If anyone gets lazy, we let them know,” he said.
Hollins would seem to be the hardest to replace but junior Brandon Nicholson slid over from second base to shortstop after missing the first five games with mononucleosis and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s batting .490 out of the cleanup spot and ranks second in hits (25) despite missing time. Sophomore Troy Banks filled in with Nicholson out and earned himself regular playing time. Banks has split time in left field with senior Mark Lauria (.360) by batting .439 with an on-base percentage of .571.
“He played so well I had to find a spot for him,” Gibson said. “He’s been tremendous.”
Catcher Lou Kuczewski’s hitting .400. The junior is a full-time receiver now after posting a 3-0 pitching record last year. Gibson has high praise for junior third baseman Jeff Palczewski, who he believes might be the best third baseman in school history even though a former major leaguer by the name of Dave Hollins once played for the Quakers.
OP players believe they’ve earned the right to be called No. 1 in the state even though the distinction brings extra pressure for the postseason. “We’ve worked so hard to get where we’re at. We embrace it,” Sipowicz said.
As good as Orchard Park has been through the years, it hasn’t won a state title since 1988. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since the Quakers earned the right to hoist the championship plaque for all to see.
That just goes to show you how difficult it is for everything to fall into place for good teams during the one-and-done postseason tournament.
Last year’s playoff loss “was a big blow,” Sipowicz said. “I think it’s motivated guys to work a little bit harder in games and practices.”