NIAGARA FALLS – Iroquois and Williamsville East have had contrasting baseball seasons but by the end of Thursday night they had something in common.
Both earned the right to be called Section VI champions. In the Chiefs’ case, they either proved their coach wrong or right.
Iroquois has had such an up-and-down season that when players asked their coach if it had a chance at winning the Class A-2 title, they couldn’t tell if Marv Matteson was kidding or being serious when he said “no.”
Of course that question was two playoff games ago, and the veteran coach with a wry sense of humor and more than 1,000 wins across four sports in all likelihood was trying to get their ire up in an attempt to coax them to play their best.
“We were talking a lot of reverse psychology,” Matteson said.
Whatever it was, it worked as the fourth-seeded Chiefs made history at Sal Maglie Stadium by defeating No. 2 Amherst, 12-6. Junior Owen Greene led the offense, accounting for six runs on his own, while senior Evan Kaul picked up the complete-game win as Iroquois won its first sectional title since 1992.
“It’s a rare occurrence,” said Greene, who went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and two runs scored. “To be part of something like this, it’s an honor. I love being on a team like this.”
The Flames (18-6), perennial contenders, are feeling the love too as they won their first title in 11 years by drubbing top-seeded Grand Island, 14-5, to capture the Class A-1 crown.
“It means a lot to the program,” East junior Mike Steffan said. “We’ve come a long way this season. … We got a bunch of runs early and never looked back.”
The champions meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday here for the overall Section VI Class A championship. That’s the middle game of a championship tripleheader at Sal Maglie Stadium with the Class AA final kicking things off at noon.
An estimated 600 attended the doubleheader. They saw an Iroquois team (13-8) that came in averaging roughly six hits a game punish the ball when it swung away and force Amherst (15-7) into mistakes when it bunted.
The Chiefs had seven hits through four innings, finishing with 10. Greene finished a home run shy of the cycle.
The lefty-swinging Greene, the No. 2 hitter, singled and scored during the Chiefs’ two-run first inning, coming home on Noah Fuer’s triple to right. After pushing two more runs across on wild pitches in the second, Iroquois broke the game open with a five-run fourth with Greene crushing a two-run triple to right. He later scored on Napierala’s sac-fly to center. After Amherst scored four in the bottom of the fourth to make things interesting, Greene, who had four hits and five RBIs in a first-round playoff win over Niagara-Wheatfield, capped a three-run fifth by belting a two-run double to left center.
Connor Day walked three times and scored three runs batting in the No. 7 spot for the Chiefs, while No. 8 hitter Carl Salerno finished 1 for 2 with two runs.
That was more than enough for Kaul, who struck out five and yielded eight hits.
While the title is Iroquois’ first in 24 years, it is Matteson’s first since 1994 when he coached at Kenmore East. This is his 15th season at Iroquois, a job he figured he’d do for just one season after retiring from the Ken-Ton School District.
“This is nice,” said Matteson, who has also won sectional titles coaching basketball and cross country.
“First time since ’94 so it feels like I can’t remember it,” he quipped.
Williamsville East has a 19-man roster with just three seniors that proved just making contact is a good thing. A good-hitting Flames crew forced the Vikings into four errors in the first two innings en route to an 8-1 lead, leading to five unearned runs.
While Steffan went 1 for 4 with three runs scored and an RBI, the star of the show was sophomore Charlie Mack. He belted two doubles, drove in three runs and scored three runs to secure the program’s 10th sectional title in veteran coach Jerry Gasz’s 47 seasons.
Grand Island finishes 15-5.