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Orchard Park’s Sipowicz delivers with arm, bat

NIAGARA FALLS – Andrew Sipowicz saved his best for last on Saturday, pitching a perfect seventh inning in relief and plating the winning run for Orchard Park in the Class AA baseball Far West Regional on Saturday.

The Quakers won, 4-3, over Section V champion McQuaid on a bases-loaded walk-off error at Niagara Falls High School. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Sipowicz hit a ground ball that went under the glove of McQuaid second baseman Michael McDonough to send Orchard Park to its first baseball Final Four since it won the state championship in 1988.

“I couldn’t believe it got through,” Sipowicz said. “I was just ecstatic.”

Orchard Park scored three runs against McQuaid pitcher Henry Buholtz in the bottom of the first. The Knights battled back with two runs off Quakers starter Ben Wereski in the third, and tied the game on Gunnar Sertl’s RBI triple to right.

After the first, Buholtz settled down to pitch five scoreless innings until trouble returned in the seventh. With their top hitters coming to bat in the bottom in the frame, the Quakers were confident they wouldn’t need extra innings to get the win.

“We knew we were going to score once we got to the top,” said Brandon Nicholson, who led off the inning lacing a first-pitch single down the third-base line.

Austin Bristol then bunted but reached safely when Michael Campbell couldn’t field Buholtz’s throw to first. A passed ball moved the runners to second and third, and Jeff Palczewski was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up Sipowicz.

“He struggled a little bit today but I’ll take my chances with the bases loaded, nobody out, and Sippy up to bat,” Orchard Park coach Jim Gibson said.

Sipowicz struck out in his first two at-bats. While his teammates found success swinging at a first-pitch fastball, he watched one of those go by for a strike, got his timing down, and poked the 0-1 pitch to second. McDonough ranged to his left but saw the ball dart between his glove and the brown, artificial-turf infield, falling to the ground in disbelief as Nicholson touched home for the winning run.

“I thought it was a little in the hole,” Sipowicz said, “so I thought it was a tough play if he was going to try to get him at home,”

The Quakers plated their first three batters of the day. Nicholson singled to left, Bristol’s fly ball to right was dropped and Palczewski walked. Cole Hollins, who later bent the right -ield fence chasing down Sertl’s game-tying triple, hit an RBI single to left. Luke Kuczewski followed with an RBI on a fielder’s choice, and Jacob Dogal made it 3-0 on an RBI single to center.

Wereski pitched 4∏ innings for Orchard Park, leaving in the fifth with the bases loaded. Patrick Beam battled through an eight-pitch at-bat against reliever Jacob Lewis, but popped out to end the threat.

“We had a lot of guys on base,” McQuaid coach Jim Purtell said. “Two innings we ended with pop outs. It’s tough, it’s a momentum-changer.”