NIAGARA FALLS – A deep pitching staff is perhaps the most important asset on the road to a sectional baseball title.
Hamburg and Olean showed why on Saturday, riding secondary starters to the Class A1 and A2 baseball titles while saving their aces for Monday’s Class A Crossover, where the Bulldogs and Huskies will meet for the right to represent Section VI in the state tournament.
Jake Mertowski went the distance for Hamburg in its 3-2 win over Kenmore East in the A1 title game, striking out six and walking none while scattering four hits.
Not to be outdone, Olean’s Jake Cavana tossed a three-hit shutout in the second game of a windy afternoon at Niagara Falls High School, striking out seven and providing the offense for himself in a 2-0 win against Amherst.
Cavana got Olean on the board in the bottom of the first inning, pushing a grounder to the right of the side of the infield to score Garrett Boldt from third. In his second at-bat, Cavana singled and stole second before scoring on Evan Threehouse’s single. Two runs turned out to be more than enough.
Forgoing his knuckleball Saturday, Cavana used a low-80s fastball and sharp curveball to keep Tiger hitters off balance and off the bases. Amherst’s best chance to score came in the fifth when it had runners on second and third with two outs and its leadoff hitter up, but Cavana induced a pop up to end the inning.
“His mental makeup is something I’ve been impressed with since he was 8 years old,” Olean coach Matt Threehouse said of Cavana, now an 11th-grader. “His instinct for the game, his competitiveness, he’s a gamer. … He certainly was the right man for the job.”
Kenmore East led twice in the A1 final, 1-0 and 2-1, but each time it took the lead, Hamburg answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning before going ahead for good in the fifth.
Ninth-place hitter Ryan Dils led off the inning with a single for Hamburg and advanced to third as the next two hitters grounded out. Kenmore East walked third hitter Cam Ringo, who was 1 for 2 with a double and a strikeout, to bring up cleanup hitter David Edie, who had singled in the previous inning and scored on a balk.
“They walked Cam to go to David Edie, who’s our catcher who’s an absolute horse,” Hamburg coach Steve Chaffee said. “I knew when they walked him that it was all good stuff.”
Chaffee was right, as Edie scored Dils on a sharp single to give Hamburg a 3-2 lead after five.
East’s starting pitcher and cleanup hitter Ryan Williams hit a shot to center in the seventh that seemed bound for extra bases, but Ringo ran it down for an incredible catch, taking the wind out of the Bulldogs’ sails.
Monday’s Crossover could be another low-scoring game. Hamburg, the top seed in A1, plans to start Ringo, who threw a two-hit shutout against Williamsville East on Thursday. Olean, seeded first in A2, will counter with Threehouse, their ace. First pitch at Niagara Falls High School is at 5 p.m.